Anxiety is a normal reaction that every human has it is the body’s response to danger or stress. While anxiety is needed to trigger a person’s fight or flight responses, sometimes anxiety can become regular and controlling. When anxiety starts to present itself constantly and interferes with day to day activities this is when anxiety becomes a disorder. There are many different types of Anxiety Disorders, so the term anxiety is often used as an umbrella term to cover the many types of anxiety a person can face.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The most common anxiety disorder is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It is when a person tends to overthink and become overwhelmed by everyday events and activities. People who experience GAD often fear the worst outcome of a situation. They become so afraid of what could happen that they start to block out their rational thinking. There are many different symptoms that people can experience and they present differently in each person. However, the most common symptoms include; GAD Symptoms: Constant feeling of nervousness or restlessness, Having difficulty concentrating, Sleeping problems, Nausea, Muscle tension. (Government of Canada, 2009)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder may be diagnosed by a general physician but is usually diagnosed and treated by a psychologist. The main goal when treating GAD is to help a person function in their daily life. In most cases, this disorder is treated with psychotherapy or medications. Psychotherapy is also known as counselling, this treatment is the most common way to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder and usually involves one on one sessions with a psychologist to understand and reduce a person’s symptoms. In these sessions, a psychologist uses treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is used to understand anxious thoughts and behaviours that someone is experiencing, and turn them into rational ones. CBT can be paired with music, art or other stimulants that may help a person. By pairing CBT and different activities together it associates positive feelings to environments or objects that can be anxiety triggering. While working with psychologists can help treat anxiety there are many self-help techniques as well. Getting proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise can also help with GAD.
Along with CBT, some psychologists may prescribe medications to help control anxiety. The two medications used to treat GAD are anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants (which are more long term). The most common anti-anxiety medication is benzodiazepines and Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety that causes a person to become suddenly overwhelmed and panicked without warning. These sudden attacks are known as panic attacks and generally last between five and 20 minutes, but can last up to an hour. Panic Attack Symptoms: Breathing problems such as hyperventilation, Heart palpitations or chest pain, Nausea, Thoughts of extreme fear/dying, Sweating/chills, Dissociation, Shaking, dizziness, and numbness (Government of Canada, 2009) These symptoms often persist after a panic attack has ended and can disappear within minutes or hours. As many panic attacks involve hyperventilating in some cases ER visits are needed because their CO2 levels are high and supplemental oxygen is needed. Some people also end up in the ER because there symptoms are so strong that they believe that they are having a heart attack or dying.
Like General Anxiety Disorders, panic disorders can be treated by a psychologist/therapist with cognitive behavioural therapy or exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is used to understand and conquer fears associated with a certain person, place or thing. By experiencing what may trigger panic attacks in a safe manner a person can become more comfortable in these environments. CBT can also be used for panic disorders. Learning coping strategies like progressive muscle relaxation help prevent and control panic attacks.
Phobias are very common among the general population and most people experience one. While many people can deal with their phobias without help, some phobias can be classified as an anxiety disorder. If a phobia becomes controlling and inhibits a person daily functions treatment is necessary to help the person through their day to day life.
There are two types of phobias, specific and social phobias. Social phobias (also known as social anxiety disorder) are a constant fear that a person has when they feel that they are in a situation that involves being watched by others. People become so fearful of what other people may be thinking and worrying that they will do something wrong that they avoid social situations altogether. Having a social phobia limits a person’s ability to work jobs, go to school, and interact with others. The second type of phobia is called specific phobia. Specific phobias are any type of phobia that brings up a constant and overwhelming fear in a person. There are millions of specific phobias that people can have. Any specific situation that causes a constant fear is classified as a specific phobia. Some of the most common specific phobias include the fear of heights, being alone, and insects. People who suffer from these phobias will avoid any situation that puts them in an environment with their phobia.
Like most anxiety disorders, social and specific phobias are treated with CBT, Exposure therapy, and in some cases medication. With specific phobias, most people can manage their phobia by limiting their contact with their trigger. In cases where this is not possible people will go to psychologists to work on coping strategies to control their fears. Medications that are used are called Beta-blockers, tranquillisers, and anti-depressants. These medications are used as short term solutions. They work by controlling serotonin levels, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels so that a person can feel less of the symptoms that raise fear in them.
Anxiety disorders are quite common in Canada, in 2018 41% of the population reported about suffering symptoms of anxiety. Of that 41%, only 12% had been formally diagnosed and treated with an anxiety disorder (Kirkery, 2018). Although anxiety is common many people go undiagnosed and untreated for years. This is because mental health disorders are stigmatized, and many people feel too ashamed to seek treatment for the symptoms that they are feeling. n the last 10 years, the number of young adults (age 12-26) in North America with an anxiety disorder has gone up as much as 60% in some places. This can be attributed to young people not sleeping as much and the impact social media is having. The numbers may also be going up because for so long mental health disorders have been said to be caused by other health problems or completely ignored causing a lack of long term data (American Psychological Association, 2019).
Other than the stigma around these mental health disorders many people are unable to access help because of financial barriers. In Canada, the average cost for private therapy is between $80-$200 dollars a session (Canada Revenue Agency, 2019). While there are many self-treatments that a person can try they don’t always work. Another reason that anxiety disorders may go untreated is for family reasons. While every age group and gender can face struggles regarding anxiety; anxiety disorders are most common in adolescent females and middle-aged women. Because the majority of this age group relies on their parent’s health coverage it can be harder to get treatment. Many adolescents may not receive treatment if their parents don’t “believe” in their anxiety, or youth don’t have a healthy enough relationship to talk about it with their parents. For these people, there are community centres where young adults can get help for free. Some of these centres are walk-in but some may have a waitlist to get in that can be months long.
Because anxiety is a mental disorder rather than a physical one, fewer people seek diagnosis and treatments. Until more recently the government and the general population have seen anxiety as a very general term that people just throw around. Although anxiety disorders look like very different things for everyone they are definitely treatable. Now more than ever there is more research being done on treatment options and access to this care is becoming easier. The most important aspect regarding anxiety is to seek help and get treated so that it does not become a major limitation in everyday life. Because controlled anxiety is a necessity for the human body in the right situation.