Understanding Anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an excessive irrational fear of a situation or constant sense of worry about an imagined negative outcome in the future.

How is it different from fear?

It is normal to experience fear/worry in life situations. But in anxiety this is disproportionate and can occur without any situation. The person also understands this but the anxiety may be so overpowering one cannot overcome it.

What are the types of anxiety?

Phobias: Intense fear of particular situations. For eg: crowded or open/closed spaces, travelling in flights/bus, interacting with new people, public speaking. There is avoidance of these situations.

Panic attacks: Sudden attacks of intense fear for no apparent reason. Increased heart beat, chest pain, sweating, flushing. Person may think she is having heart attack.

Generalised anxiety: Constant sense of worry about something bad happening in the future. Sense of uneasiness, inability to relax.

Illness anxiety: Constant preoccupation with  symptoms of having a serious illness. Person seeks multiple consultations from doctors and tests. Is not satisfied even if tests are negative.


What causes anxiety? 

How we think, feel and behave is controlled by our brain chemicals. Anxiety is a medical illness related to imbalance in working of the brain chemical serotonin. Feeling tensed in certain situations is normal (for eg. Before an exam, or when  you see a snake in a room). But in anxiety disorder the chemical imbalance tricks your brain to trigger anxiety in situations it should not.  Individual personality and stress can contribute.

You are not alone!

It is estimated that in India 10-15% of people will suffer from anxiety in their lifetime. It can affect men and women and also children, adolescents, and the elderly.

What is the treatment?

Treatment involves correction of the brain chemical imbalance by medications and addressing individual vulnerabilities, breaking the negative thought cycle by psychotherapy. Generally combination of medication and psychotherapy works best.

While medication helps in getting out of the phase of anxiety, it is equally important to learn psychological techniques (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) to cope with anxiety thoughts and prevent future recurrence.


If you feel anxious

  • Remember it is a temporary phase.
  • Remind yourself that these thoughts are due to anxiety and not your own thoughts
  • Focus on the present and not on the past or future.
  • Seek Professional help from a licensed mental health professional.


Anxiety can be mistaken for medical illness

  • Heart disease– Palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness. Heart tests done multiple times will be normal
  • BP– During periods of anxiety, BP measurement and pulse rate may be high and can be mistaken for hypertension
  • Brain disease– Heaviness in head, headaches are symptoms of anxiety. These can be misinterpreted for serious brain illness like stroke or tumors
  • Stomach ailments– A common symptom of anxiety is also bloating of stomach, indigestion, change in bowel habits.

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