Are you anxious?
Maybe you are disturbed about a particular problem.
Maybe you have butterflies in your stomach while waiting for the results of a medical test. Maybe you get nervous when driving home in rush-hour traffic as cars speed by and weave between lanes.
What is anxiety?
An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.
Anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s your brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting you of potential danger ahead. Sometimes, anxiety can even be beneficial. For example, anxiety helps us notice dangerous situations and focuses our attention, so we stay safe.
In reality, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. This includes both adults and children. For most people, feelings of anxiety come and go, only lasting a short time. Some moments of anxiety are more brief than others, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
However, for some people, these feelings of anxiety are more than just passing worries or a stressful day at work. Your anxiety may not go away for many weeks, months, or years. It can worsen over time, sometimes becoming so severe that it interferes with your daily life. When this happens, it’s said that you have an anxiety disorder.
According to College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. There are 1.5 million cases of anxiety disorder treated per year in Nigeria.
An anxiety disorder happens when:
- Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
- You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
- You can’t control your responses to situations.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
Who is at risk for anxiety disorders?
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can raise a person’s risk for developing anxiety disorders. You may be at higher risk if you have or had:
- Certain personality traits, such as shyness or behavioral inhibition — feeling uncomfortable with, and avoiding, unfamiliar people, situations or environments.
- Stressful or traumatic events in early childhood or adulthood.
- Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions.
- Certain physical conditions, including thyroid problem and heart arrythmia (unusual heart rhythms).
Anxiety disorders occur more often in women. Researchers are still studying why that happens. It may come from women’s hormones, especially those that fluctuate throughout the month. The hormone testosterone may play a role, too — men have more, and it may ease anxiety. It’s also possible that women are less likely to seek treatment, so the anxiety worsens.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder. You feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.
- Panic disorder. You feel sudden, intense fear that brings on a panic attack. During a panic attack you may break out in a sweat, have chest pain, and have a pounding heartbeat (palpitations). Sometimes you may feel like you’re choking or having a heart attack.
- Social anxiety disorder. Also called social phobia, this is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. You obsessively worry about others judging you or being embarrassed or ridiculed.
- Specific phobias. You feel intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. The fear goes beyond what’s appropriate and may cause you to avoid ordinary situations.
- Agoraphobia.You have an intense fear of being in a place where it seems hard to escape or get help if an emergency occurs. For example, you may panic or feel anxious when on an airplane, public transportation, or standing in line with a crowd.
- Separation anxiety. Little kids aren’t the only ones who feel scared or anxious when a loved one leaves. Anyone can get separation anxiety disorder. If you do, you’ll feel very anxious or fearful when a person you’re close with leaves your sight. You’ll always worry that something bad may happen to your loved one.
- Selective mutism. This is a type of social anxiety in which young kids who talk normally with their family don’t speak in public, like at school.
- Medication-induced anxiety disorder. Use of certain medications or illegal drugs, or withdrawal from certain drugs, can trigger some symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorder
Some things also make you more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. These are called risk factors. Some risk factors you can’t change, but others you can.
Risk factors for anxiety disorders include:
- History of mental health disorder. Having another mental health disorder, like depression, raises your risk for anxiety disorder.
- Childhood sexual abuse. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect during childhood is linked to anxiety disorders later in life.
- Trauma. Living through a traumatic event increases the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can cause panic attacks.
- Negative life events. Stressful or negative life events, like losing a parent in early childhood, increase your risk for anxiety disorder.
- Severe illness or chronic health condition. Constant worry about your health or the health of a loved one, or caring for someone who is sick, can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
- Substance abuse. The use of alcohol and illegal drugs makes you more likely to get an anxiety disorder. Some people also use these substances to hide or ease anxiety symptoms.
- Being shy as a child. Shyness and withdrawal from unfamiliar people and places during childhood is linked to social anxiety in teens and adults.
- Low self-esteem. Negative perceptions about yourself may lead to social anxiety disorder.
At-home anxiety treatments
While taking medication and talking with a therapist can help treat anxiety, coping with anxiety is a 24–7 task. Luckily there are many simple lifestyle changes you can make at home to help further alleviate your anxiety.
Get exercise. Setting up an exercise routine to follow most or all days of the week can help reduce your stress and anxiety. If you are normally sedentary, start off with just a few activities and continue adding more over time.
Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. Using alcohol or drugs can cause or increase your anxiety. If you have trouble quitting, see your doctor or look to a support group for help.
Stop smoking and reduce or stop consuming caffeinated drinks. Nicotine in cigarettes and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks can make anxiety worse.
Try relaxation and stress management techniques. Taking meditation, repeating a mantra, practicing visualization techniques, and doing yoga can all promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can increase feelings of restlessness and anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor for help.
Stick to a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish.
When to see a doctor
It’s not always easy to tell when anxiety is a serious medical problem versus a bad day causing you to feel upset or worried.
Without treatment, your anxiety may not go away and could worsen over time. Treating anxiety and other mental health conditions is easier early on rather than when symptoms worsen.
You should visit your doctor if:
- you feel as though you’re worrying so much that it’s interfering with your daily life (including hygiene, school or work, and your social life)
- your anxiety, fear, or worry is distressing to you and hard for you to control
- you feel depressed, are using alcohol or drugs to cope, or have other mental health concerns besides anxiety
- you have the feeling your anxiety is caused by an underlying mental health problem
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To a better health!
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Sesan Kareem is a public health advocate and writer. His mission is to use his clinical and leadership skills to democratize healthcare for all Africans