Understanding Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety is a common emotion that humans feel when stressed, worried or in danger.
Anxiety tends to be future-focused. It’s common to experience it around a current or upcoming threat. But anxiety can also relate to past events. You may feel anxious thinking about the present implications of something that’s already happened. For example, if you misspoke to a friend last night, today you might worry about losing the relationship. Or you may experience anxiety when recalling frightening memories of a traumatic event. Anxiety is a common response to trauma. Anxiety can be caused by different types of threats: Physical (for example, an attacker), Social (for example, embarrassment at school or work), Chronic (for example, an accumulation of unresolved issues), Traumatic memories (these can become distorted and feel like a present threat).
These changes help our body become physiologically alert and prepare us for action. This is known as the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response can be helpful if we’re facing a physical threat. But it may become problematic if it gets triggered repeatedly in the absence of a physical threat. Some people experience a frequent, disproportionate fight or flight response that’s triggered by social situations, unresolved issues or traumatic memories. This may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety
Everybody feels anxiety symptoms differently.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may experience some, but not necessarily all, of the following symptoms:
Excessive worrying or racing thoughts
Restlessness (feeling unable to sit still)
Feeling tense in the body
Changes in appetite
Avoiding places, people or events
Symptoms can vary in severity. For example, a person with a mild anxiety disorder may only have slight upper body tension and some repetitive thoughts.
Others may have more acute symptoms. For example, a person with a more severe anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, may experience panic attacks. If you experience a panic attack, you may feel dizzy, faint, sweaty, and like you can’t breathe. You might also feel a sense of doom – like something terrible is going to happen. Sometimes people mistake panic attack symptoms for a heart attack. Panic attacks are not dangerous, however, and normally subside in around 10 – 15 minutes.
Anxiety is a common emotion that we all feel. When anxiety symptoms become problematic, it may be a sign of an underlying mental health condition.
Mental health conditions that can cause anxiety symptoms include:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
If you’re regularly experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it is a good idea to speak to an anxiety therapist.
Your anxiety therapist will use a semi-structured interview and a simple questionnaire that uses something called a psychometric scale. This will help them understand the impact your symptoms are having so they can reach a diagnosis. Your anxiety symptoms may be caused by one or more underlying mental health conditions. Once these are diagnosed, your therapist can explore the best way to treat these.
Treatments for anxiety
Once you have received a diagnosis, your anxiety therapist can create a bespoke treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.
A course of psychological therapy sessions will help you to understand how your anxiety is triggered, how it manifests and what maintains it. This will give you more control over overcoming it. Two therapies that are particularly effective for anxiety are cognitive behavioural therapy and EMDR.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps you change the way you think and behave, to better manage your mental health. CBT is a highly effective treatment for anxiety and has a wider evidence base for treating anxiety than many other therapies.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) as a key treatment for anxiety, especially PTSD. EMDR involves recalling traumatic events while focused on a type of repetitive movement called bilateral stimulation. This can change the way your brain processes these experiences, and reduce the distress they cause.
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