Why do we need to talk about Anxiety?
Anxiety now features in more conversations than ever before, with testimonials pushing for an acceptance of what is often not acknowledged enough in modern social systems — that human beings break down, especially when exposed to growing demands of performance and success.
The National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16 found that nearly 10 per cent of the population were affected by common mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. It quoted a study done in Himachal Pradesh, which revealed that 15.5 per cent of the population in the age group of 15-24 years suffered from anxiety.
Almost one out of five adolescents in India suffers from some level of mental morbidity, says a 2019 study conducted by the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences. Male teenagers from urban, nuclear family backgrounds constituted the majority of its sample survey. They showed risk behaviour such as substance abuse, casual sex and speed driving and were found to be often in conflict with their family members and the law.
What is Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Knowing the difference between normal feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder requiring medical attention can help a person identify and treat the condition.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control, like there’s a disconnect between your mind and body.
Other ways people experience anxiety include nightmares, panic attacks, and painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.
Symptoms of general anxiety include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty in falling asleep
What is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety attack is a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry, distress, or fear. For many people, an anxiety attack builds slowly. It may worsen as a stressful event approaches.
Common symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- feeling faint or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- chills or hot flashes
- apprehension and worry
- numbness or tingling
When is anxiety a mental health problem?
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
It is crucial to distinguish between plain nervousness and a disorder. Failing to do this can result in two problems –
- One, the medicalisation of the normal human experience of anxiety
- Two, the opposite effect of trivialising the anxiety disorder of a person as something ‘that everyone experiences and needs to deal with
“Anxiety is essential, it facilitates our response to either fight or flee. If someone encounters a lion in a jungle, her anxiety makes her run for her life, till she is safe. But if the person cannot let go of the anxiety even when she is safe, is consistently worried and scared, that is how you understand that an anxiety disorder exists,” says Delhi-based counselling psychologist Manisha A Sharma.
What’s to worry?
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): The most common form of anxiety, it is an extreme, intense and absurd worry associated with everyday life. You will anticipate disaster about everyday things and experience fatigue, nausea, headaches, restlessness, insomnia and sweating.
Panic Disorder: If you get recurring panic attacks, it is possible that you have a panic disorder. Physical symptoms include rapid heartbeat, perspiration, dizziness, hyperventilation, chest pains and crying.
Social Phobia: Not to be confused with shyness. If you’re scared of being around people altogether, you might be experiencing social phobia, which is an intense fear of being in a social situation and being judged by other people.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): If you have experienced something traumatic in the past, and keep revisiting that memory, you might be going through PTSD. It can last for years, with physical effects including severe insomnia and constant fatigue.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): If you tend to have certain thoughts or tend to do certain routines repeatedly and are unable to control them, you might be experiencing OCD. Eating only out of a particular plate may be mild OCD, but refraining from eating if that plate is not available is acute OCD.
Most people with the condition try one or more of these therapies:
- Medication: Many antidepressants can work for anxiety disorders.
- Psychotherapy: This is a type of counseling that addresses the emotional response to mental illness. A mental health specialist helps you by talking about how to understand and deal with your anxiety disorder.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This is a certain type of psychotherapy that teaches you how to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that trigger deep anxiety or panic.
- There are several exercises and actions to help a person cope with milder, more focused, or shorter-term anxiety disorders, including:
- Stress management: Learning to manage stress can help limit potential triggers. Organize any upcoming pressures and deadlines, compile lists to make daunting tasks more manageable, and commit to taking time off from study or work.
- Relaxation techniques: Simple activities can help soothe the mental and physical signs of anxiety. These techniques include meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark, and yoga.
- Exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: Make a list of the negative thoughts that might be cycling as a result of anxiety, and write down another list next to it containing positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Creating a mental image of successfully facing and conquering a specific fear can also provide benefits if anxiety symptoms relate to a specific cause, such as in a phobia.
- Support network: Talk with familiar people who are supportive, such as a family member or friend. Support group services may also be available in the local area and online.
- Exercise: Physical exertion can improve self-image and release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.
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