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Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, causes, treatment and myths

Jan 15, 2022

Did you know, 7.5% Indians suffer from some mental disorder and 35 million Indians suffer from an anxiety disorder?

Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders and are affecting more people across India. It has been noted that the prevalence is relatively higher in the southern states and in women. Most people in India are not aware about the seriousness of depression and anxiety. So, today we’re going to talk about what is an anxiety disorder.

To understand it better - its causes, symptoms and treatments, we spoke to Dr. Priyanka Lakhani (MBBS, DNB) General Physician from Dhani at length and gained insights into this mental health problem.

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that serves an important basic survival function: It is sort of like an alarm that is activated whenever a person feels threatened or in danger. During an anxiety attack, it gets difficult for a person to get through the day.

When a person experiences anxiety, they experience a faster heartbeat and breathing, tense muscles, sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and trembling hands or legs. These are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepares the body to get away from danger.

What are the causes of anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are just like other forms of mental illnesses. They aren’t instigated due to personal weakness, character flaws or due to an upbringing problem. And even though researchers and experts don’t know the exact causes of anxiety disorders, they suspect a combination of factors like:

Chemical imbalance: Severe or long-lasting stress can affect the chemical balance that controls your mood. Thus, experiencing a lot of stress for a long period of time can lead to an anxiety disorder.

Environmental factors: Experiencing a trauma can trigger an anxiety disorder. This is more likely in the case of people who have inherited a higher risk to start.

Heredity: Like many other diseases, anxiety disorders run in families. Thus, if one or both of your parents had it, you may likely inherit them.

What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder vary from person to person, depending on the severity. However, there may be some common signs.

Physical symptoms like:

  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath

Mental symptoms:

  • Feeling panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
  • Uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Inability to be still and calm
  • Ritualistic behaviours, such as washing hands repeatedly
  • Trouble sleeping

What are the types of anxiety disorders?

There are five major types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

Even though anxiety disorders are common, there are quite some misconceptions that revolve around anxiety. Let’s debunk some of them.

Myth 1 - Anxiety is not a disease

Anxiety is actually a common psychiatric disorder that is often misunderstood or goes undiagnosed. Anxiety disorders include disorders that share features of excessive fear and related behavioural disturbances.

Myth 2 - Anxiety will go away on its own

Anxiety disorders can be chronic and persistent, and if not dealt with properly, anxiety symptoms are likely to return. Treatment for Anxiety disorders consists of a combination of pharmacotherapy (medications) and psychotherapy. The symptoms are linked to underlying personality traits or ways of thinking. These can be addressed with therapy or coping strategies for anxiety.

Myth 3 - Only adults have an anxiety disorder

Even though anxiety is a common mental illness among adults, it is also common among children. It can cause behavioural, emotional, and physical symptoms in children, just like in adults.

Anxiety disorders commonly include:

  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Selective mutism
  • Anxiety due to substance/medication induced/ related to another medical condition
  • Phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder

People with an anxiety disorder diagnosable by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health, fifth edition (DSM-5) must have a certain number of symptoms that persist for at least six months. Anxiety disorders can be extremely debilitating and distressing to an individual.

Anxiety Disorder Treatment

There are many ways to treat and reduce the impact of an anxiety attack. Depending on the severity, people choose to treat themselves with medications or through counselling. But, here are some things to adapt in your daily lifestyle to control an anxiety attack:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga (deep breathing exercise) + Meditation
  • No Tobacco and Alcohol
  • Limit Caffeine intake
  • Eating balanced diet
  • Good Sleep

When to see a doctor

Take note of the following points to know when you must consult a doctor for anxiety or an anxiety disorder:

  • You feel like you're worrying too much and it's interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
  • Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting you and difficult to control
  • You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
  • You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviours — if this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately

If you experience any of these symptoms, you can consult top doctors on the Dhani app. With Dhani doctor, you can speak to any of our doctors who will be able to help you with your health concerns. Get connected to Dhani doctor in just 10 seconds, available 24x7. Download today to try free consultations for 30 days.

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