What is Anxiety?
We’ve all experienced anxiety at one time or another. Our child is late from school, and our imagination runs wild. We have to give an important presentation, and we get butterflies in our stomach... The scenarios are endless. Anxiety is a normal part of life. It tells us we are alive and kicking.
So when does anxiety stop being OK?
If this feeling is persistent, excessive and seemingly uncontrollable, your anxiety can become disabling. You may be having difficulty tolerating uncertainty. These feelings can also co-occur with depression. If it all gets too overwhelming and it’s preventing you from doing the things you would normally do, then you may be suffering from some level of anxiety disorder. However, before you go off on a ‘worst case scenario’ trip, bear in mind that there are many types and many levels of anxiety disorder, ranging from very mild to severe. Every case is different. Whatever your level of anxiety, if it’s getting in your way, you are not alone, and help is at hand.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Have you been experiencing prolonged and excessive worry about a number of different things, e.g. money, health, family, work, or other stuff? Do you spend time anticipating disaster, and ‘catastrophizing’ future events, even though you may be perfectly aware that you’re making mountains out of molehills? You may even find yourself worrying that if you stop worrying about things, bad things will happen, right? Like you’re trapped in an unending cycle of worry, a hamster on a wheel, with that persistent feeling of uncertainty. If so, you might be suffering from a condition called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
If the anxiety level is mild to moderate, you may be able to function socially, have a full and meaningful life, and be gainfully employed. But some GAD sufferers may not be able to enjoy life to the full, because they are avoiding their perceived ‘danger zones’, e.g. social situations, travel, adventure, etc. When their anxiety is severe, some may even find it difficult just getting through the day.
Have you ever experienced spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue bouts of anxiety? Are you preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack? Panic attacks can happen when we least expect them, sometimes even when waking up from sleep. There are many symptoms, and they can include palpitations, sweating, trembling, feelings of choking, feeling dizzy, or fear of losing control or of dying. You may also experience ‘out-of-body’ sensations. This type of anxiety can interfere a lot with daily life, because sufferers tend to avoid certain places or situations which might bring on another panic attack. Typically, they don’t realize that their condition is real and that real help is available. Sadly, some people are too embarrassed to speak about their fears, and may opt instead to distance themselves from friends and family, which further adds to their feeling of isolation.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Are you haunted by persistent intrusive thoughts? Or constrained by compulsions to carry out specific behaviours? Perhaps repeated hand-washing? Or checking and re-checking the locks? OCD is just one of the many manifestations of anxiety. It traps people in repetitive thoughts and behavioral rituals that can become incapacitating. Like other anxiety disorders, this condition can range from mild to severe. Whatever its level, it can become chronic if left undiscussed and untreated.
How can psychotherapy help?
Whether you’re just experiencing elevated levels of everyday stress, or whether you are suffering from a particular kind of anxiety disorder, talking to a therapist can help you learn how to manage your anxiety. Some anxiety disorders may require the additional help of medication which can be prescribed by a psychiatrist as part of your holistic treatment plan, and therapy can help you change your “relationship” to your symptoms. It can help you to understand the nature of anxiety itself, to be less afraid of its intrusive presence in your life, and to help you make clearer choices.