Everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety, but they are generally occasional and short-lived, and do not cause problems. But when the cognitive, physical and behavioural symptoms of anxiety are persistent and severe, and anxiety causes distress in a person’s life to the point that it negatively affects his or her ability to work or study, socialize and manage daily tasks, it may be beyond the normal range.
The main categories of anxiety disorders are:
People with anxiety disorders may feel anxious most of the time or for brief intense episodes, which may occur for no apparent reason. They may have anxious feelings that are so uncomfortable that they avoid daily routines and activities that might cause these feelings. Some people have occasional anxiety attacks so intense that they are terrified or immobilized.
People with anxiety disorders are usually aware of the irrational and excessive nature of their fears. When they come for treatment, many say, “I know my fears are unreasonable, but I just can’t seem to stop them.”
Each of these anxiety disorders is distinct in some ways, but they all share the same hallmark features:
Cognitive, behavioural and physical symptoms include:
The physical symptoms of anxiety may be mistaken for symptoms of a physical illness, such as a heart attack.
Like most mental health problems, anxiety disorders appear to be caused by a combination of biological factors, psychological factors and challenging life experiences, including:
Several factors determine whether the anxiety warrants the attention of mental health professionals, including:
Many psychological treatments, such as relaxation training, meditation, biofeedback and stress management, can help with anxiety disorders. Many people also benefit from supportive counselling or couples or family therapy. However, experts agree that the most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Medications have also been proven effective, and many people receive CBT and medication in combination.
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