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What is anxiety?

Everybody gets anxious when faced with a stressful situation, for example before an exam or an interview, or during a worrying time such as illness. It’s normal to feel anxious when you face something difficult or dangerous. However, some people find it hard to control their worries, their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.

What is the fight or flight response?

Ever since the earliest days of humanity, the approach of predators and incoming danger has set off alarms in the body and allowed an individual to take action. These alarms become noticeable in the form of a raised heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity to surroundings. A rush of adrenaline in response to danger causes these reactions. This adrenaline boost is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It prepares humans to physically confront or flee any threats to safety.

For most modern individuals, running from larger animals and imminent danger is a less pressing concern. Anxieties now revolve around work, money, family life, health, and other crucial issues that demand a person’s attention without necessarily requiring the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction.

That nervous feeling before an important life event or during a difficult situation is a natural echo of the original ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. It can still be essential to survival – anxiety about being hit by a car when crossing the street, for example, means that a person will instinctively look both ways to avoid danger.

When is anxiety a problem?

Anxiety can become a problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be an issue 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 anxiety feels overwhelming 
  • your anxiety is hard to control
  • you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety
  • you experince panic attacks
  • you find it difficult to function on a day by day basis

The different types of anxiety disorder

Panic Disorder – Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours that seem impossible to stop or control. Common obsessions include fears about germs, dirt or violence. Compulsions are thoughts or actions that people feel they must do or repeat. A compulsion is usually a response to ease the anxiety of an obsession, such as repeatedly washing your hands to deal with an obsession about dirt.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural or human-caused disasters or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common.

Phobias – People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache or nausea.

Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder – An anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.

Health Anxiety – An obsessional preoccupation with the idea or the thought that you are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness. Those who are affected by health anxiety are convinced that harmless physical symptoms are indicators of serious disease or severe medical conditions. For example, if a person experiencing health anxiety feels that their chest is getting tight, they may believe that they are having a heart attack. Those with health anxiety frequently misinterpret physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of an impending physical health problem.

Symptoms of anxiety

When you’re anxious you may also have a range of physical symptoms. These happen because of your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which is caused by the release of the stress hormone adrenaline.

The symptoms can include:

  • abdominal discomfort
  • diarrhoea
  • dry mouth
  • rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • tightness or pain in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • needing to urinate more often than usual
  • difficulty swallowing
  • shaking

You can also get psychological symptoms, which can include:

  • sleeping difficulties (insomnia)
  • feeling worried or uneasy all the time
  • feeling tired
  • being irritable or quick to get angry
  • being unable to concentrate
  • a fear that you’re ‘going mad’
  • feeling not in control of your actions, or detached from your surroundings (derealisation)

Causes of anxiety

Anxiety disorders may be caused by environmental factors, medical factors, life-experiences,  substance abuse, or a combination of these. It is most commonly triggered by the stress in our lives. Usually anxiety is a response to outside forces, but it is possible that we make ourselves anxious with “negative self-talk” – a habit of always telling ourselves the worst will happen.

Circumstances – sometimes it’s obvious what is making you anxious. When the problem disappears, so does the anxiety. However, some extreme situations are so threatening that the anxiety goes on long after the event. You can feel nervous and anxious for months or years, even if you were physically unharmed. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Drugs – recreational drugs like amphetamines, LSD or ecstasy can all make you anxious – for some people, the caffeine in coffee is enough.

Life experience – bad experiences in the past or big life-changes such as pregnancy, changing job, becoming unemployed or moving house

Make an appointment 

If you would like to arrange an appointment or require further information regarding our alcohol services please telephone our Wolverhampton practice on: 01902 827808.  Alternatively fill out our online contact form and we will contact you within 24 hours.