Anxiety – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is characterized by a sense of unease, intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It is frequently accompanied by nervous behavior that an upcoming event or circumstance can trigger. It is a normal stress response, but it becomes a disorder when it interferes with daily life. Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness affecting millions of adults and young people. 

What Causes Anxiety? 

Anxiety attack is a complex condition that many factors can cause. It’s not uncommon for it to be caused by an underlying condition, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of the most common causes of concern include: 

  • A traumatic event from the past 
  • Mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD 
  • Having trouble concentrating 
  • Having trouble sleeping 
  • Stress 
  • Being around other people who are anxious or angry 

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

The symptoms can vary from person to person. For example, some people may feel pressure in a crowd or around unfamiliar people, while others might experience it when they are alone. In general, though, the symptoms are: 

  • Feeling nervous, restless (feeling jittery), and tense. 
  • Nausea, stomach upset, and other GI symptoms. 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) 
  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty controlling worry. 
  • Trembling hands and knees 
  • Avoidance for things that trigger anxiety 
  • Feeling impending danger, panic, or doom.

What are the Types of Anxiety Disorders? 

There are many types of anxiety disorders, and the symptoms may vary according to the condition. Some common types include: 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition that is characterized by: 

  • Excessive, uncontrollable worry and anxiety. 
  • Fatigue 
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Other symptoms like restlessness and irritability accompany these feelings. 

The disorder can occur at any age but usually begins in early adulthood. The exact cause of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is unknown, but it may be related to genetic and environmental factors.  

People with this condition tend to think about events negatively and have difficulty controlling their thoughts. The most effective treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication.  

CBT helps people learn how to change their thoughts, so they don’t focus on the negative aspects of situations as much. Medications such as antidepressants help reduce symptoms such as depression, irritability, and panic attacks that often occur alongside Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 

Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder is a mental illness that causes sudden feelings of terror and fear. The feelings are so intense that they can lead to a panic attack, including: 

  • Chest pain 
  • shortness of breath 
  • A strong sense of losing control and impending doom. 

Panic attacks usually last around 10-15 minutes, but they can be extremely debilitating for many people who get them on a regular basis.  These panic attacks may cause you to be concerned about them happening again or to avoid circumstances where they have already happened. Medication and therapy are used to treat panic disorder. 

Phobia-Related Disorders:  

The four most common phobia-related disorders are: 

Specific Phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as snakes or heights. The person knows their fear is irrational, but they still experience it as though it were real. 

Social Phobia: Also known as Social anxiety disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by:

  • Significant and persistent fear of being judged or criticized by others 
  • This leads people to avoid what they usually do, such as going out with friends or meeting new people. 
  • Feel very nervous in social situations and think other people judge them harshly. 
  • They may worry about being embarrassed or judged by other people. Sometimes they may even fear that they will do something embarrassing or humiliating. 

It can be treated with Antidepressant medications and Cognitive behavior therapy. 

Agoraphobia: This disorder involves both specific and social fears, but it also involves worries about going outside alone or being away from home without help from another person who is nearby at all times (e.g., family members).  Agoraphobics are often associated with panic attacks when they leave their homes because they’re worried about what might happen if they’re alone and unable to contact someone immediately for help if needed (e.g., getting lost). 

Separation Anxiety Disorder:  It’s a childhood disorder characterized by excessive anxiety for the child’s developmental level. It is related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles. 

Selective Mutism:  Children consistently fail to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work, and social functioning. 

Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder: It is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, exposure to a toxic substance, or withdrawal from drugs. 

Other Specified Anxiety Disorders and Unspecified Anxiety Disorders: These anxieties or phobias don’t meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive. 

What are the Risk Factors? 

There are many risk factors including: 

Genetic Factors. People with anxiety disorders often have a family history of anxiety. If one or both parents have an anxiety disorder, they are more likely to develop one. 

Environmental Factors. Traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect during childhood can increase the likelihood of someone developing it later in life. Environmental factors like poverty or financial stress can also contribute to it. 

Brain Chemistry. Researchers believe some people may have a genetic predisposition toward developing certain mental illnesses. These people are thought to have an “anxiety sensitivity,” making them more likely to develop anxiety disorders or experience panic attacks when exposed to triggers such as stress or loud noises (see below). 

Trauma: Experiencing trauma during childhood or adolescence increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder later in life. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is particularly strongly linked to it. 

Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone than others are. 

Negative Thinking Patterns: Many people who suffer from severe anxiety have negative thoughts about themselves and their situation. This thinking can contribute to stress and make it harder to cope with everyday life. 

Stressful Life Events: Experiencing a significant life event, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can trigger an anxiety disorder in some people. 

How is it Diagnosed?

Doctors examine the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and family history to diagnose anxiety. They Conduct a mental state examination through an interview with the patient and rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. The doctor might also use several tools to help them understand how well they respond to treatment. The tests to include : 

  • The Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale 
  • Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A) 
  • Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) 
  • Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN) 
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) 

What are the Treatments Available for Anxiety Disorders?

They are many different types of treatment, including : 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps them understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect each other. Individuals will learn how to identify when they have negative thoughts or feelings and then figure out ways to change them. 
  • Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). This is another kind of CBT that involves gradually exposing themselves to the things that scare them until their fears disappear. This is often done through role-playing situations where they practice being more comfortable with what scares them until it doesn’t anymore. It is effective with patients with OCD. 
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on the present moment rather than past trauma. It encourages patients to fully accept their thoughts and feelings as they live a more fulfilling life. 
  • Medication can help relieve the symptoms by helping calm down the brain’s activity, so it doesn’t feel so overwhelmed by stressors in its life. 

For those suffering from anxiety, knowing the options available to them and understanding how each type of treatment can help may be extremely helpful in finding the treatment that best suits them. Like other mental health disorders, it may still be challenging to treat, but it is most definitely possible. Educating yourself on treatment options is always a safe choice when considering your next steps in healing. If you’re concerned about how anxiety affects you, share your concerns with our expert psychiatrist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi.

Our Expert Psychiatrist

Dr. Nada Omer Mohamed Elbashir

Specialist Psychiatrist

Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi