What is Anxiety Disorder?

We all have feelings of anxiety, worry and fear sometimes. These can be normal responses to certain situations. For example, you might worry about a job interview, or about paying a bill on time. These feelings can give you an awareness of risks and what you need to do in a difficult or dangerous situation. This reaction is known as ‘fight or flight’.
Your brain responds to a threat or danger by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Even if the danger is not real, these hormones cause the physical symptoms of anxiety. Once the threatening situation has stopped, your body will usually return to normal.
But if you have an anxiety disorder these feelings of fear and danger can be ongoing and interrupt your daily routine long after the threat has gone. They can make you feel as though things are worse than they actually are.

Symptoms Anxiety Disorder

Everyone’s experience of anxiety disorders is different. Not everyone who has an anxiety disorder will experience the same symptoms. If you dissociate you might feel like you are not connected to your own body. Or like you are watching things happen around you, without feeling it.


Mental symptoms of anxiety can include:

• racing thoughts
• uncontrollable over-thinking 
• difficulties concentrating,
• feelings of dread, panic or ‘impending doom’ 
• feeling irritable 
• heightened alertness
• problems with sleep 
• changes in appetite
• wanting to escape from the situation you are in, and
• dissociation


Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

• sweating
• heavy and fast breathing 
• hot flushes or blushing 
• dry mouth
• shaking 
• hair loss
• fast heartbeat 
• extreme tiredness or lack of energy
• dizziness and fainting 
• stomach aches and sickness

Types of Anxiety Disorders and Causes

This section provides an overview of the most common types of anxiety disorders.


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is common. The main symptom of GAD is over worrying about different activities and events. This may feel out of your control. You feel anxious a lot of the time if you have GAD. You might feel ‘on edge’ and alert to your surroundings.
This can affect your day-to-day life. You might find that it affects your ability to work, travel places or leave the house. You might also get tired easily or have trouble sleeping or concentrating. You might have physical symptoms, such as muscle tension and sweating.
It is common to have other conditions such as depression or other anxiety disorders if you have GAD.
GAD can be difficult to diagnose because it does not have some of the unique symptoms of other anxiety disorders. 


Panic disorder

You will have regular panic attacks with no particular trigger if you have panic disorder. They can happen suddenly and feel intense and frightening. You may also worry about having another panic attack.

Panic disorder symptoms can include the following: 
• An overwhelming sense of dread or fear.
• Chest pain or a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly.
• Feeling that you might be dying or having a heart attack.
• Sweating and hot flushes or chills and shivering.
• A dry mouth, shortness of breath or choking sensation.
• Nausea, dizziness and feeling faint.
• Numbness, pins and needles or a tingling sensation in your fingers.


Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is sometimes known as social phobia. Lots of people may worry about social situations but if you have social anxiety you will have an intense fear or dread of social or performance situations. This will happen before, during or after the event.

Some common situations where you may experience anxiety are the following: 
• Speaking in public or in groups.
• Meeting new people or strangers.
• Dating.
• Eating or drinking in public.

You might feel aware of the physical signs of your anxiety. This can include sweating, a fast heartbeat, a shaky voice and blushing. 



A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
Phobias are stronger than fears. They develop when a person has increased feelings of danger about a situation or object. Someone with a phobia may arrange their daily routine to avoid the thing that's causing them anxiety.
Common examples of phobias include the following.
• Animal phobias. Such spiders, snakes or rodents.
• Environmental phobias. Such as heights and germs.
• Situational phobias. Such as going to the dentist.
• Body phobias. Such as blood or being sick.
• Sexual phobias. Such as performance anxiety.


Health anxiety

You may have health anxiety if you spend a lot of time worrying about if you are ill. Or worrying about getting ill.

You may:
• worry that your doctor has missed something,
• check your body a lot for signs of illness,
• constantly worry about your health,
• spend a lot of time asking people if they think you are ill,
• spend a lot of time looking at health information on the internet, on the tv or in newspapers, or
• act as if you were ill.

Symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat can be caused by anxiety. But if you have health anxiety you may mistake these for signs of illness. 



Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult. Or situations where help wouldn't be available if things go wrong. This could be the following:
• Leaving your home.
• Being in public spaces.
• Using public transport.
• Being in crowded spaces.
You might find that these situations make you feel distressed, panicked and anxious. You may avoid some situations altogether. This can affect day-to-day life.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

You will have obsessions, compulsion or both if you have OCD.
• Obsession. An obsession is an unwelcome thought or image that you keep thinking about and is largely out of your control. These can be difficult to ignore. These thoughts can be disturbing, which can make you feel distressed and anxious.
• Compulsion. A compulsion is something you think about or do repeatedly to relieve anxiety. This can be hidden or obvious. Such as saying a phrase in your head to calm yourself. 



Skin picking is medically known as dermatillomania.
It is an impulse control disorder. You will regularly pick at your skin. Often you will pick healthy skin.
This can cause damage to your skin, including bleeding, bruising and sometimes permanent marks. You will usually pick the skin on your face but might also pick other areas of the body. You will find it difficult to stop yourself doing it. No one knows the cause for skin-picking. It is thought that it could be a type of addiction. Or it relieves tension and stress.


Hair pulling

Hair pulling is medically known as trichotillomania.
It is an impulse control disorder. You feel the urge to pull out your hair if you have this condition. This can be from your scalp or other places such as your arms, eyelashes, legs or pubic area. You will find it difficult to stop yourself doing this.
You might experience a build-up of tension which you can relieve by pulling out the strand of hair. You might not even be aware that you’re doing it.  It can be difficult to stop, which can lead to hair loss.


Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

You will have upsetting thoughts about the way you look if you have BDD. The thoughts don’t go away and have a big effect on daily life.
This is not the same as being vain about your appearance. You may believe that you are ugly and that everyone sees you as ugly, even if they reassure you that this isn’t true.
Or you may believe that people are focused on an area of your body such as scar or birthmark. It can be very distressing and lead to depression.

What Can I Do

There are lots of things that you can do to improve how you feel and get better at managing tough feelings.
It can feel hard to find the energy or motivation to do these things. Sometimes it might feel like nothing will help. Try starting with one thing you know you can do, then slowly add things in step by step. This can help you feel like you’re making progress.

Find Help

If you or someone you know lives with a anxiety, you can go to your local clinic where a health worker will assess you and offer initial treatment.

Treatment may include medication as well as short-term individual or group counselling and support. The mental health nurse may consult with the psychologist or psychiatrist (or other members of the mental health team) when additional expertise is needed. If necessary, the mental health nurse may set up an appointment with one of these specialists for further assessment.

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