Feeling anxious is a natural and perfectly normal response to stressful situations or events like a driving test, job interview or medical examination. It is part of the body's fight or flight reflex so helps us to cope with any perceived threat or danger.
Some symptoms associated with anxiety include:
Tightness in the chest
In some people, and nobody really knows exactly why, attacks of anxiety can become prolonged, happen repeatedly, and are severe enough to interfere with their ability to carry out normal routines and activities. If this is the case then they may be diagnosed as suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Along with the physical symptoms of anxiety, the individual can feel irritable, unable to concentrate or focus, not in control of their actions and could feel they are losing it or going completely mad. There are several different types of anxiety disorders.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder the person feels anxious, nervous or keyed up a lot of the time, often about minor stresses at work or at home or perhaps without even knowing why they are feeling anxious.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a variety of symptoms can follow a severe or life threatening trauma including a lot of anxiety, recurrent and distressing memories, thoughts, images, or feelings associated with the trauma that interferes with normal daily life
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Recurrent thoughts and urges (obsessions) that result in repetitive thoughts or actions (compulsions) in order to relieve the anxiety brought on by the obsessions. For example, obsession about dirt evokes a compulsion to repeatedly wash hands
Phobia an extreme fear of something that is not in proportion to the reality to the extent that even thinking about it can evoke anxiety and panic, for example, fear of experiencing an embarrassing or awkward situation from which there is no escape, or fear of leaving a safe place (agoraphobia) may prevent someone leaving the house
Panic Disorder Recurrent panic attacks with a severe attack of anxiety and fear that happens without warning and for no apparent reason
According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), 5% of the population in the UK have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and 1% suffer from Panic Disorder. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to get the appropriate treatment as anxiety can also be a symptom of other conditions including an underlying illness or substance abuse, and anxiety will often accompany some form of depression.
Feeling a bit low or down in the dumps from time to time is quite normal, but if the symptoms don't go away after a couple of weeks and are affecting your normal routines, then it is possible that you are suffering from depression. Around 10% of the population in the UK suffer from depression at any one time.
Some symptoms associated with depression include:
Feeling tired and lethargic for most of the time
Persistent low moods and sadness, a feeling of despondency
Sleep disturbances, either inability to sleep or sleeping too much
A pessimistic outlook on life
Feeling anxious and nervous
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Frightening and irrational thoughts
Loss of pleasure in activities and lack of interest in sex
Avoidance of social contact and social situations
Loss of appetite or an increased appetite and associated weight loss or weight gain
Emotional outbursts for no apparent reason
Depression can affect anyone at any time but some people are more at risk than others, for example, the long term sick and unemployed, the socially isolated, those in prison, anyone with a previous history of depression themselves or in their family or anyone battling with drug or alcohol addiction. Life changing events can sometimes precipitate an episode of depression, for example, redundancy, divorce, physical illness and disability or bereavement.
Sometimes people will seek help from their GP with symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Mixed Anxiety and Depression
According to government statistics, in the year 2000 only 2.8% of the population suffered from depression without any symptoms of anxiety whereas just over 9% of adults in Britain were suffering from mixed anxiety and depression and this figure had increased from previous years suggesting that the numbers are growing. No one knows exactly what causes either anxiety or depression because there is no single cause; however, there are certain factors that appear to contribute to both anxiety and depressive disorders and these include the possibility of chemical imbalances in the brain, a genetic tendency, personality and personal life experiences or a combination of these factors. Treatment will usually consist of a mixed approach involving medication and psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy.