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Is anxiety a disorder?

Around 35.7% of Indians living in urban areas suffer from anxiety disorders according to research. With such a large percentage of the population suffering from anxiety disorders, it is very important to know the difference between the general anxiety we feel in our day-to-day lives and a full-blown anxiety disorder. 

In this article, I will explain what anxiety means, what the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders is and what exactly are the symptoms, causes and consequences of it.

A word of warning before we proceed: anxiety is not something you can self-diagnose. To get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you have to undergo a lot of tests conducted by a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel like you have any of the symptoms I talk about in this article, please contact a PsychOWLogist.

Table of contents:

  1. Anxiety meaning
  2. Anxiety disorder 
  3. Anxiety symptoms
  4. Anxiety causes
  5. Untreated anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion we experience almost every day. Whether you are worried about your test score, watching an India vs Pakistan match, or finally asking the guy/ girl out, you feel anxious. 

It is a completely normal emotion to feel. Fear, worry and apprehension are a part of the spectrum of emotions that humans feel. 

It evolved from the early days when we were hunters and gatherers. At that time, We needed a quick flight or fight response to nearly all situations. In that way, anxiety gave us a survival advantage.

American Psychiatric Association says that even today, anxiety for an exam or a deadline can actually help you work harder and therefore, get better results! In other situations, for example– if you are walking alone in a dark alley, feeling anxious will keep you alert to your surroundings and any potential danger.

So when does this emotion turn into a disorder?

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anything in moderation is usually a-okay! However, anything in excess is (nine times out of ten) harmful. It is the same case with anxiety.

When you are feeling anxious for the most part of the day and that feeling is keeping you from doing things that you would like to, then it is NOT okay. You might be suffering from or be on the brink of an anxiety disorder. 

There are three main characteristics of the kind of anxiety that leads to anxiety disorders are:

  1. Persistent
  2. Instense
  3. Excessive 

If this sort of anxiety continues for a long time, you will have a serious problem on your hands.

Anxiety disorder is defined by psychologists as a medical condition where the patient experiences extreme fear, nervousness and worry frequently over a period of time. It is an umbrella term for many other disorders like phobias, social anxiety, panic disorders and generalised anxiety disorders.

In your everyday life, this could mean avoiding certain situations that make you uncomfortable. You may not be able to go to a fair or concert because it is too crowded, you may not be able to get into an elevator for the same reason. Job interviews or confrontations with friends may just become impossible to do.

As a rule, if the feeling of anxiety is affecting any of the following areas of your life, you should visit a psychologist:

  • Your work life: your anxiety is not allowing you to do your best at work. You are unable to carry out some tasks and you actually end up hating/ dreading going to work.
  • Your social life: you don’t feel like you have any friends or you don’t talk enough to those that you already have. You cannot participate in the activities that they participate in due to your anxiety.
  • Your personal life: your sleeping and eating habits are being affected by anxiety. You are feeling frustrated, helpless and sad in the face of anxiety.

These are the rough parameters psychologists use to determine whether or not someone has a disorder.

As you can see, anxiety disorders affect every part of your life. With an anxiety disorder, it becomes hard to live your life the way you want to. It will result in lost opportunities– both personal and professional. 

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorder?

Since anxiety disorders are so varied, there is no concrete list of symptoms to tick off. Every person experiences anxiety differently. For some, large crowds could trigger feelings of extreme anxiety. Others could be going about their lives avoiding certain situations because it elicits an intensely negative reaction from them.

However, there are a few signs that you might have a generalised anxiety disorder:

  1. Feeling anxious (nervous, tense and restless): A certain degree of this is normal but feeling like this constantly or very intensely in certain situations is a danger sign.
  2. Physical reactions to anxiety: This includes sweating and trembling when exposed to the cause of the anxiety. Other signs are when your heart rate increases at this time or if you start hyperventilating. You feel tired and weak.
  3. The anxiety affects your mental state: You have trouble concentrating on anything else; the cause of your anxiety is all you can think about. You feel mentally exhausted and drained.
  4. Sleeping and eating problems: If you are either oversleeping (hypersomnia) or not getting enough sleep (insomnia), you might want to talk to a psychologist. Gastrointestinal or digestive problems are also indicators of anxiety disorders.
  5. Avoiding the cause of anxiety: When something affects us in an intense and negative way, as humans our first instinct is to avoid it. If you are with consciously or subconsciously avoiding a certain action or situation or task (like entering an elevator or crowded places), you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

The first thing to do if you suspect that you might have an anxiety disorder is to go to a doctor and get a full physical examination. This is to make sure that there are no biological or medical conditions that give rise to these symptoms and it is, in fact, your mental health that is the concern.

Why anxiety occurs

In psychology, there are two broad reasons everything (including anxiety) occurs: nature or nurture. The nature argument states that your anxiety disorder stems from biological and genetic causes. The nurture argument says that it is the negative elements in your environment that would have resulted in an anxiety disorder. Both are true. 

The degree to which they are true, however, depends heavily on the person. As I said earlier, anxiety comes in different forms to different people. No two people experience the same type of anxiety. This is because each person’s circumstances are wildly different from the other. 

For example, Two people– Sonya and Rahul have anxiety disorders. Sonya’s parents also suffer with anxiety and so did her grandma. However, Sonya is exposed to a lot of pressure at work and often suffers from anxiety attacks at night.  Rahul, on the other hand, has no family history of anxiety but suffers from social anxiety. He cannot stand crowds and is often left out of his friend group.

As you can see, two people can have completely different causes, symptoms and experiences while suffering from an anxiety disorder. This variety also makes it more important than ever to visit a psychologist. You will not have the knowledge or tools that they do to diagnose and treat your anxiety.

What happens if anxiety is left untreated?

Or as I like to think of it: do I really need to pay for therapy? 

If anxiety is left untreated, your symptoms will escalate (as with any condition). There are two ways untreated anxiety can ruin your life– mentally and physically. Let’s start with physically:

  1. You will start having anxiety attacks 
  2. You will be more prone to heart attacks
  3. You will put on a lot of weight
  4. Your immunity system will start malfunctioning
  5. Your sleeping and eating schedule will get messed up (read insomnia and digestive problems).

As for the mental repercussions of not treating your anxiety disorder, they are way scarier. Anxiety, you see, is a chronic disease. There is no definite cure for it. Treatment is the only way you can reduce the symptoms. Many people have seen tremendous improvements to their mental health after just the first few sessions of therapy. 

Untreated anxiety will result in your symptoms getting worse and worse until you cannot function like a normal person. You can start feeling depressed, suicidal and even start abusing alcohol and other drugs. You will not be able to perform at work and your social life will start deteriorating. 

You know what’s worse? Your family, friends and loved ones will be on the receiving end.Your mood swings, episodes and other symptoms of untreated anxiety can leave a lasting mental scar on them. This is especially true if you have children who are going to exposed to such an environment.

Good therapy does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. With the right psychologist, just a few hours a week over video call would be enough. PsychoLogist provides affordable online counselling with an experienced and certified clinical psychologist. You can learn more about them here.

They will help you through psychotherapy to overcome your symptoms and reduce the effect that your disorder has on your life. If you want to know about exactly how therapy helps, check out our article– How to get psychological help online.

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