Anxiety

It wouldn't be normal if people didn't experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Feeling anxious at a job interview or during a driving test is to be expected. There is a big difference between having normal healthy stress reactions (the fight or flight response), and being overwhelmed by them.

Anxiety can be a symptom of other illnesses or can be a specific condition in itself, commonly referred to as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. People suffering with GAD have long-term feelings of anxiety even when there are no obvious triggers to natural stress.

Psychological Symptoms

  • restlessness
  • sense of dread
  • feeling 'on edge'
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • impatience
  • being easily distracted

Physical Symptoms

  • dizziness
  • lethargy
  • pins and needles
  • irregular heart beat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • diarrhoea
  • headache
  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urinating
  • difficulty in falling, or staying, asleep
  • painful or missed periods in women

Diagnosis

If feelings of anxiety are becoming burdensome you should visit your GP. Questions may be asked about your fears, emotions and personal life to try and get a picture of any contributory factors - only then can a true diagnosis be given. Ongoing symptoms of anxiety for 6 months or more makes a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder more likely.

Psychological Treatment

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be accessed through your GP. In simple terms, CBT gives you the necessary tools to change the way you think about things. It teaches you how to break the pattern of negative thoughts and assumptions you make, by challenging the logic of your thoughts and if there is any evidence to support them. For example; someone looks at you without smiling - your immediate reaction may be they don't like you, when in truth they may just be having a particularly bad day themselves and are preoccupied with their own concerns.

Access to CBT is currently being promoted through an initiative called IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies). If you were to have CBT you would attend approximately 6 sessions. This gives enough time to achieve an understanding of the principles of CBT but not so long that it becomes a dependency rather than a therapy.

Short Term Medication

Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative and are very effective at combating feelings of anxiety. They are highly addictive however and can't be used as a long-term treatment.

Antihistamines are more commonly used to treat allergic reactions but are sometimes used to help ease the symptoms of anxiety. They achieve this by having a calming influence on the brain, which results in you feeling less anxious.

Long Term Medication

SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are a type of anti-depressant that work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. As with any type of antidepressant it can take several weeks for improvements to be noticed. You should start at a low dosage and slowly increase the dose as your body adjusts to the medication. You should always consult your doctor if you wish to come off the medication and reduce the dose gradually.

SNRIs (Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) are like SSRIs but more potent. Venlaflaxine is a drug that is used to increase the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain, which helps to restore the chemical imbalance that can cause GAD.

Other Medical Treatments

Anxiolytics like Buspirone can help ease the psychological symptoms of anxiety and work in a similar way to Benzodiazepines. The advantage of Buspirone is that it is not addictive. You will most likely need to take the medication for between 1-2 months before you notice an improvement in your condition.

Beta Blockers are more commonly used in the treatment of angina and high blood pressure but can also be an effective treatment for the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating and palpitations.

Lived Experience

“With anxiety, when my thoughts are flying and I feel very tense, I find it can be enormously helpful to do some kind of relaxation tape, whether it's the guided meditation type or progressive muscle relaxation - visualization can work for some people too.

It also helps to just focus on my breathing, slowing it down as best I can, but without trying to force anything to happen. Carbohydrate-type foods seem to help me, like porridge, toast and that kind of thing; also cool liquids, particularly sipping at water.”


“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good way to overcome certain fears that are controlling your life. When you fear something you do all that you can to avoid being in that situation. With CBT you expose yourself to these fears gradually, so that eventually you can be in that situation and not worry about it and overcome your fear. I would recommend it as it has helped me a great deal. I had a phobia of fire, making life very difficult, thinking that a fire would happen again. I have been gradually exposing myself to certain situations like lighting the fire and leaving things switched on. Now I can do these things without worrying - without it taking control of my life.”