Everybody has fears and worries. But sometimes they are unfounded and take over. In this case one speaks of an anxiety disorder. About a quarter of all people go through such a mental illness once in their life. In this information you will learn more about normal and pathological anxiety, as well as treatment options.
At a glance
Anxiety as a feeling
The feeling of fear is a normal reaction to danger. It should help people to eliminate the cause of danger or to escape from it.
Fear as a disease
In anxiety disorders, the feelings of anxiety are very pronounced and exceed a normal level. The quality of life and everyday life of those affected is severely impacted.
Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated with psychotherapy or medication. It is important not to avoid situations that cause fear, but to face them.
What are anxiety disorders?
Fear is part of life. Everybody knows this feeling. It protects us in some situations and can even be life-saving.
An anxiety disorder, however, is not a fear of a real threat. Those who are affected have exaggerated fear or are afraid of things or situations that other people find normal.
Anxiety disorders may be accompanied by physical signs of anxiety such as racing heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, chest tightness and dizziness.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. The most common ones are:
- Panic disorder: sudden attacks of anxiety, extreme fears such as fear of death or "panic attacks", which usually last only a few minutes
- claustrophobia (agoraphobia): fear of confined spaces, crowds, wide places
- generalized anxiety disorder: long-lasting fears and worries that lead to tension, inner restlessness and nervousness
- Social phobia: fear of being judged negatively by other people
- specific phobia: fear of individual things or situations that are not dangerous in themselves, such as spiders, syringes or flies
Where does normal anxiety end, where does pathological anxiety begin??
Almost everyone knows the feeling of fear. Someone who has a tingling feeling in the elevator, who is afraid of spiders or who is afraid to give a speech, does not therefore have an anxiety disorder yet. But if you agree with at least one of the following statements, you should seek medical or psychotherapeutic help:
- I think about my fears for more than half of the day.
- I am considerably limited in my quality of life and freedom of movement by my fears.
- I get more and more depressed because of my anxiety.
- Because of my fears I have had suicidal thoughts.
- I often fight my anxiety with alcohol, drugs, or tranquilizers.
- Because of my anxiety, my partnership or my work is in serious danger.
How anxiety disorders develop?
The reasons why anxiety disorders arise are complex. Past or current stressful life events, adverse parenting styles, social stresses, and biological and hereditary factors are thought to be the cause. Other existing mental or physical illnesses can also promote the occurrence of an anxiety disorder.
Identifying anxiety disorders
A doctor or psychotherapist can determine whether you have an anxiety disorder in an examination interview. He asks for the typical signs and gets a picture of your life situation. It is important that you trust the professionals and answer openly. The more accurately you do this, the better a diagnosis can be made and, based on that, treatment can be planned with you. In order to exclude the possibility that another illness is behind the signs, you will also be physically examined.
Treat anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders can usually be treated well with psychotherapy or medication. In addition, measures such as sports or relaxation procedures can be helpful. Which treatment is suitable for you depends on the anxiety disorder in question, your medical history, and above all on your personal wishes and expectations.
If left untreated, anxiety disorders are usually permanent. Only rarely do they disappear on their own. The longer it persists, the more difficult it is to treat it. But even successfully treated anxiety disorders can reoccur later in life.
What you can do yourself
The most important rule is: Face the anxiety-provoking situations and do not avoid them. This means, for example, that you should take the elevator even if you are afraid of it.
It helps if you realize that signs of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat or dizziness do not lead to harmful consequences such as fainting or a heart attack.
In the case of social anxiety, you can practice addressing strangers, making speeches, looking the other person in the eye, or asserting yourself in an argument.
It is difficult to face the anxiety-provoking situation that you have avoided for years. Proceed step by step. The more often you can do it, the sooner you can reduce anxiety. Be happy about even small successes.
Contact your family doctor’s office or a psychotherapy practice right away if needed. You can make an appointment with them for a so-called "consultation" agree. You do not need a referral for this. Dare to take this step. Nobody chooses his illness. A mental illness, like a physical one, is not a question of guilt: No one would be ashamed to go to the doctor because of back pain.
Be prepared that treating an anxiety disorder takes time.
Crises are easier to overcome with support. Accept offers of conversation and support from your friends or loved ones. In self-help groups, you can exchange experiences with other sufferers.