We all claim to be feeling anxious every now and but what is anxiety, really?

Many of us experienced a surge of intense feelings during the lockdowns, and although the world has now reopened, many of those feelings persist or at least to some extent. Although a very tragic period, the pandemic served as an opportunity to validate the experiences of many who had mental health issues long before the horrors of COVID-19. Anxiety is just one of the many conditions that built up during this time. We spoke to two experts to help us better comprehend the condition.

Everything you need to know about anxiety

“As anxiety symptoms often occur without any obvious explanation, many people often misinterpret them and think it is a serious problem”, says Pallavi Barnwal, Delhi-based, intimacy coach. There are numerous myths regarding anxiety that are untrue, and as the conversation around mental health has progressed, people have begun to have discussions on different circumstances in which anxiety may develop, such as work, school and online.

What is Anxiety?

“Anxiety can be described as an emotion elicited in response to thoughts about something going wrong in the future. Healthier forms of it are care or concern which can be a strength. But if intense, anxiety can be debilitating”, says Dr. Shwetambara Sabharwal, Mumbai-based psychologist, and psychotherapist.

How Does Your Body React To Anxiety?

When you are anxious, your body’s defense system kicks in. In certain circumstances, this is a healthy reaction and is a definitive advantage. It means you are ready to act against the perceived threat and respond quickly if needed. For example, if you have an upcoming job interview, some anxiety about what questions will come up motivates you to prepare well. Thus moderate amounts of anxiety actually improve your performance, propelling you to higher achievements. “Anxiety becomes a problem when it starts interfering with our work, our performance, and our daily life. This is when it becomes necessary to control it”, adds Barnwal.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

They Can Be Categorised Into The Following:

1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – which is characterized as an incessant worry over a range of diverse issues. People who have GAD may fear an impending disaster or tragedy or they might worry excessively about their finances, health, families, jobs, or other matters.

2. Panic Disorder – when you frequently have sudden panic or anxiety attacks.

3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) – a common, chronic, and long-lasting mental health condition in which a person experiences uncontrollable, recurrent thoughts (obsessions) and/or activities (compulsions) that they feel the need to repeat.

4. Specific phobias – a phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a recurring, overwhelming dread of a thing or circumstance. Typically, phobias cause a sudden onset of fear and last for more than six months.

5. Social Anxiety – is a kind of anxiety illness that makes people extremely frightened in social situations. People with this illness have a hard time interacting with others, making new friends, and going to social events. They worry about people criticizing or evaluating them.

6. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – is a mental health condition that is brought on by experiencing or seeing a frightening incident. Flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the incident are just a few possible symptoms.

What are anxiety disorders

What Are The Causes Of Anxiety?

1. Thoughts and beliefs can become distorted and exaggerated

As one of my clients frequently remarked, “I am unable to trust my husband,” “I am unable to forgive him,” recounts Barnwal. The event involved him emailing his old girlfriend, and despite his numerous apologies and cutting off contact with her, she now lives in constant fear of him leaving her. Anxiety might spiral out of control if you believe something horrible is about to happen.

2. There is often a direct avoidance of feared situations, that is whatever the person is afraid of. 

As in the case of COVID-19, some people developed an excessive “behaviour” of repeatedly washing their hands after touching everything in an effort to alleviate their uneasiness. “A former intern of mine stayed inside until December 2020, long after the first wave had passed and things had returned to normal. You are unable to recognize that you have the ability to manage your anxiety and that the risks you sense are not real because of all these behaviours,” says Barnwal. As a result, what happens is that you still hold on to your irrational views since they have never been disproven.

Common Triggers Of Anxiety

  • stress at work or a career change
  • adjustment of living conditions
  • pregnancy and giving birth
  • family and relationship problems
  • a significant emotional shock as a response to a difficult or traumatic experience
  • verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
  • death or loss of a loved one

What Are The Symptoms of Anxiety?

  • Physical Symptoms – sweating, trembling, palpitations, muscle tension
  • Mental Symptoms – worrying thoughts: will I ever get better? Is there something seriously 
  • Behavioral Changes – Avoiding situations or people, safety behaviours, stopping pleasant activities.

What Is Panic and its Symptoms?

The most extreme type of anxiety is panic. You might begin to steer clear of specific circumstances out of concern that they’ll lead to yet another attack. A cycle of “living in fear of fear” may result from this.

Some mental symptoms during a panic attack include: 

  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • A sense of being out of control as well as a fear of dying or approaching tragedy.
  • An extreme fear of having another panic attack soon
  • Fear associated with places where you may have experienced panic attacks

Some physical symptoms during a panic attack include: 

  • Your heart is pounding or racing
  • Feeling sweaty
  • Getting chills
  • Experiencing breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain

What are the symptoms of anxiety

What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

A Panic Attack is an extreme reaction characterised by fear and physiological symptoms such as shortness of breath, tachycardia, sweating and sometimes a feeling of death approaching. 

Anxiety is a more diffused yet challenging emotional reaction to future concerns. This may or may not be as acute as a panic attack.  

Can anyone experience anxiety and to what extent?

Life stresses lead to anxiety that can result in a range of symptoms. People can experience anxiety based on these two factors:

1. The Amount Of Stress That Is There

 One may have a single major problem or a lot of smaller problems all of which can pile up and result in a large amount of stress. Stress can be measured to some extent by the number of changes that have happened in your life.

2. The Kind Of Person You Are

Some people have a more sensitive nervous system. Their bodies’ fight or flight response is triggered more quickly and takes a long time to calm down. These people may also have an anxious attachment where they always live on the edge, scanning their environment for any minute threat. Usually, this is a result of parental upbringing where their attachment needs are not met, and they learned to be anxious to proactively avoid the pain of abandonment, neglect, or emotional wounding.

What is an Anxiety Attack

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How do you calm anxiety?

A. The best way to cope with anxiety is breath work. Slow and mindful breathing helps, slowing down the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.  Sensory relaxation eg Visual imagery or calming tactile/ auditory stimuli can help.  Shifting cognitive focus to the present moment instead of the future is another technique.

Q. What natural remedies are used for anxiety?

A. Increased capacity for inhalation, the practice of mindfulness, cold water or ice, meditation, and conscious cognitive dialogue can all help.  

Q. Can anxiety be classified as a mental illness?

A. Anxiety disorders are classified as significant illnesses. 

Q. Can anxiety be a life-long condition?

A. There are personality types that can be of nervous or anxious type. These are hard to change. Anxiety disorders are known to be treatable with timely and appropriate interventions. As far as the prognosis of treatment for anxiety disorders is concerned it is considered to be positive.

Q. What conditions lead to medication and what are some of the post effects?

A. In the case of dysfunction, it’s when a patient is unable to fulfil daily routine tasks that may warrant medical intervention. Medication is far more sophisticated now and there aren’t many side effects reported unless treatment goes unchecked/ unregulated over a long period of time or is abruptly ended. 

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