Inspiring Better Health

Understanding Anxiety

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Understanding Anxiety
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Do you have chest pain, dizziness and heart palpitations? Are you wondering if you might have a heart problem? After all, these are some of the much-publicized symptoms of a pending heart attack! Well, you have reason to relax because there is a high chance that what you have is an anxiety disorder and not a heart problem at all.

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a psychological condition or a mental illness that is characterized by constant worry, intense fear and nervousness. This disorder can affect the quality of your life if left untreated. In the United States alone, more than 40 million cases of anxiety disorders are diagnosed every year.

The truth is that we all have anxiety attacks from time to time. We feel anxious and fearful before an exam, a job interview or a long-haul flight. We feel anxious when getting married or having children. Anxiety becomes a mental disorder when we experience these feelings intensely, or for long periods of time.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including: phobias, panic disorders, social anxiety disorders, separation anxiety disorders and generalized anxiety disorders. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can also be classed as an anxiety disorder although its severity and highly intrusive thoughts means it is typically diagnosed as a disorder in its own right.

Diagnostic Criteria

The diagnostic criteria used for anxiety include:
• The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events or activities.
• Worry that occurs more often than not for at least 6 months, and is clearly excessive.


If you identify with at least three of the following symptoms, there is a chance that what you have is indeed anxiety disorder, a highly treatable condition:

  • Edginess or restlessness.
  • Tiring easily or feeling more fatigued than usual.
  • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank.
  • Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others).
  • Increased muscle aches or soreness.
  • Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep).
  • Sweating profusely, trembling/shaking.
  • Hot or cold flushes.
  • Abdominal discomforts, nausea or diarrhea
  • Accelerated heart rate.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain, dizziness or tingling sensations

You will certainly agree, some of the above symptoms not only mimic the symptoms of heart disease, they are also very similar to other serious health conditions, such as thyroid complications and breathing disorders. Many people rush to the emergency room, thinking they are a few minutes from death. The sad fact is that it can take years of pain and wasted funds before the proper diagnosis is made.


While the exact cause of anxiety disorders remains uncertain, it is understood to be a mix of genetic and environmental factors. The disorders can often be triggered by a number of issues, including the following:

  • Substance abuse.
  • Genetics.
  • Major life changes.
  • Traumatic experiences.
  • Depression.
  • Underlying mental conditions.
  • Medication.

Anxiety Disorder Treatment Options

The good news, as we have already seen, is that panic disorder is highly treatable. It may take the assistance of a professional if it is chronic and treatment generally requires lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy — Also known as CBT, this type of therapy focuses on recognizing, understanding and changing the thought and behavior patterns of the patient. In most cases, positive results are seen within 12–16 weeks of therapy.

Exposure Therapy — This is a branch of CBT, which aims to reduce the responses of anxiety and fear. During therapy, the patient is progressively exposed to the things or situations he or she fears most. This way, he or she learns to be less sensitive over time.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — Popularly known as ACT, this therapy works through several strategies such as acceptance and mindfulness, where the patient is encouraged to accept and experience life’s happenings without passing any judgment.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy — Also known as DBT, dialectal behavioral therapy combines CBT, mindfulness and meditation to encourage change and acceptance.

Interpersonal Therapy — Also known as IPT, it usually focuses on addressing the interpersonal issues that are so common in people with anxiety and depression. IPT is a short-term psychotherapy that normally involves 12–16 weekly sessions.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — Also known as EMDR, this kind of therapy is used to teach the patient how he or she can view a disturbing issue or situation in a way that is less distressing.


Medication is also a treatment option for anxiety disorders and is usually used together with therapy. This treatment option can be either long-term or short-term, depending on the symptoms and their severity. Medication is usually administered in the form of antidepressants.

Alternative Treatment Options

There is some evidence that alternative therapies can help improve anxiety disorders when used together with conventional medicine. The most common alternative treatments used to heal anxiety disorders are:

  • Meditation.
  • Stress and relaxation techniques.
  • Yoga.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Herbal remedies.

Self-Help Strategies

1. Eating healthy — Reduce your intake of processed foods and sugar, as this will go a long way to reducing the symptoms and treating the disorder. There is a proven and significant relationship between increased consumption of processed foods and anxiety. Also aim to avoid stimulants such as caffeine, as they are known to trigger anxiety attacks.

2. Lifestyle choices — One of the reasons why anxiety is becoming more common is because we are making lifestyle choices that do not support us. Specifically eating healthy food and regular exercise should be part of your daily routine.

3. Emotional reflection — Many people have become accustomed to simply medicating problems and not really searching for their causes. If you are feeling anxious, depressed or unhappy about your life, it may well be because something needs to change.

4. Back to basics —Going back to basics can really help you see what is important in life and what makes you happy. Empower yourself to explore some simple ways to support your wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Turn off the TV, computer and mobile and read a book, talk to a friend, play with your children, take a walk, go camping, watch the sunset. What could you do to return to a simpler way of life, even for just a few minutes?

Anxiety is a mental disorder that is becoming more common as a result of our lifestyle choices. The good news is that many people report a marked improvement within just a few months of treatment. Those in the process of recovery claim that laughing often and being grateful for the little things in life really helps.

The key to recovery lies in accepting that you need to make changes and seeking people to support you. The sooner you begin transforming your life the quicker your will restore yourself to the natural state of happy calmness and contentment that we all deserve to experience.