ANXIETY

What is Anxiety?

All of us have experienced anxiety in some form or another:

– We get nervous before an exam or an important event such as speaking in public.
– We worry over finances, or whether we will miss the plane when the taxi turns up late.
– We feel anxious when our child is late home from school.

All of these examples are of natural anxiety, linked to fear, and fear is a normal human emotion necessary for survival. When we experience a threat in the environment the body responds by sending out a rush of adrenalin making us ready for “fight or flight”. Centuries ago, this response was essential for the survival of the species: we now have more sophisticated ways of dealing with stress or potential threats to us, but it is still important that we experience anxiety in order to lead safe and productive lives.

We can view ordinary anxiety positively because it is normally short-lived and of manageable intensity. It is when anxiety goes beyond the average that it becomes unbearable and we refer to it as a mental health problem. If we remember times when we were frightened or severely worried and then imagine that feeling continuing over a very long time, perhaps with greater intensity, then we can have some idea of the misery and psychological distress that anxiety conditions can bring to people.

The common types of anxiety disorder are:

– Phobias
– Generalized Anxiety Disorder
– Panic Disorder.

A phobia is fear of particular situations or things that are not dangerous or difficult for most people. Common phobias include:

Claustrophobia: a fear of confined spaces;

Agoraphobia: a fear of going out into crowded places;

Social phobia: an extreme of shyness, a dread of meeting people;

Phobias of animals, such as spiders, snakes, birds, cats or toads.

The person with a phobia will actively avoid having to confront their fear and thus life becomes quite limited and may result in huge distress.

Generalized anxiety disorder can present with both mental and physical symptoms, typically:

In the mind:
Feeling worried all the time
Feeling constantly overwhelmed
Unable to concentrate
Feeling irritable
Sleeping badly

In the body:
Irregular heartbeats (palpitations)
Sweating
Muscle tension and pains
Breathing heavily
Dizziness
Faintness
Indigestion
Diarrhea

The person with generalized anxiety disorder can feel totally overwhelmed by these symptoms and may seldom be completely free of them.

Panic is when a person has sudden unexpected surges of anxiety, so intense that they might feel as if they are going to die. Panic almost always feels as if it comes ‘out of the blue’, when least expected, so has the additional unpleasant element of surprise.

Getting Help for Anxiety
It can help to talk about the problem, so you could try friends or relatives whom you trust and who are good listeners; possibly these may be people who have had similar problems themselves. You can talk to a counselor in your church or in another organization. It might well be useful to see your GP, as medication can help. Your GP might also refer you to the Acute Community Mental Health Service for specialist help and advice. This might be psychological therapy, other medication, or learning to relax and to control tension.

Problems For Others In Helping Someone With Anxiety
It is sometimes difficult for other people to understand why a person is overcome by anxiety, as it seems like an exaggeration of something that is perfectly normal. People might think that they are being helpful by saying ‘pull yourself together’ but, in fact, the anxious person would certainly have done this if they possibly could. The main thing to realize is that anxiety is an illness and can be treated. Being sympathetic is a first step to helping the sufferer; listening to the problems and taking them at face value is very important; supporting the person in their own efforts to deal with anxiety and encouraging them to seek medical help can be very helpful.

Acute Community Mental Health Service: 236 3770 extn 3433, direct line 239 2261 (Monday – Friday, 8.00 – 5.00)

After hours and at weekends, call 236 3770 and ask for the Helpline.

Dr. Maggie Cormack completed her postgraduate training in Britain and has been with Bermuda Hospitals Board for 3 years. She is employed as a clinical psychologist working with adults in the Acute Mental Health Programme at St. Brendan´s Hospital.

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