Anxiety is a natural behavioural response to stress. While it can be helpful in certain situations by helping us prepare and react to urgent problems, it can also escalate to the point of becoming a disorder.

Anxiety disorder is different from general anxiety in that those who suffer from it tend to feel excessively anxious or afraid, to the extent that it negatively impacts their daily lives, often hindering their ability to lead a normal life.

Causes of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is typically caused by one or both of the following 2 factors:

  • Genetics and Background - If a person's parents have the disorder, it is likely that they will also suffer from it. Additionally, an introverted personality and a chemical imbalance in the brain can also contribute to the development of the condition.
  • Environmental Factors and Upbringing - This can include the way a person was raised by their parents, as well as influences from people close to them, and past events or situations that have caused feelings of anxiety.

Forms and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder can be categorised into the 5 main forms as follows:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This condition pertains to feelings of anxiety that persist throughout a person's daily life and can last for a prolonged period. It may involve anxiety related to work, family, or other minor events that can impact the individual's lifestyle. Over time, stress and anxiety can accumulate, resulting in physical effects such as tension, exhaustion, irritability, aches and pains, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.
  • Panic Disorder (PD) – Individuals may begin to experience severe anxiety and fear for a short period of time without any apparent reason. These symptoms may include an increased heart rate, palpitations, profuse perspiration, chest pain, a choking feeling, lightheadedness, nausea, a churning stomach, shivering chills, hot flushes, numbness in the hands and feet, or a general feeling of impending doom. While the symptoms of a panic attack are not typically serious, the individual experiencing them may feel extremely uncomfortable, and they can be mistaken for a heart attack or other potentially fatal condition.
  • Phobias – Phobia is defined as a strong fear of a specific thing, situation, or activity. Common phobias include a fear of heights, blood, dogs, or small spaces, among others.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – This leads to the individual experiencing intense anxiety about various aspects of their life, resulting in them repeatedly engaging in certain actions or behaviours. For instance, these behaviours may involve the individual repeatedly checking if they have locked the front door due to the fear of having forgotten to do so.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This refers to a cluster of symptoms that affect an individual following a particularly traumatic experience. Examples of such a traumatic experience may include a near-death experience, a natural disaster, being severely injured, or witnessing the death of a loved one. Symptoms of this condition are varied and may include the person becoming withdrawn and unresponsive to their surroundings, having an excessive startle response, feeling anxious about minor things, or constantly thinking about the event that caused the condition. They may also experience the same level of anxiety they felt during the traumatic experience if something triggers their memory of the event.

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorder

The physician will begin by examining the patient's medical history and conducting a general health assessment to rule out any conditions that may present symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder. The physician will also have a discussion with the patient or use specialised medical equipment to assess the presence of psychological disorders and confirm a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, as opposed to other conditions like depression that may manifest with similar symptoms.

Treating Anxiety Disorder

Treatment options depend on the type of condition. Common forms of treatment include discussing specific aspects of the condition with the patient, providing advice, actively listening to the patient's responses, and offering support, empathy, and explanations about the condition. In addition, psychotherapy sessions and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended alongside various oral medications that can help reduce anxiety.

Prevention of Anxiety Disorder

To prevent anxiety disorder, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet composed of the 5 food groups and engaging in regular exercise. It is also crucial to get enough rest, engage in stress-relieving activities, and avoid alcohol. Patients should also be mindful of triggers that can cause anxiety and practise techniques, such as mindfulness, to remain present in the moment and alleviate any tension in the mind.