Anxiety and anxiety disorder: are they the same?

Are you worried about a job interview, your job performance or your parents’ health? Feeling anxious about an exam is logical, it is an emotional response to a supposedly threatening situation that will allow you to be better prepared and focused for the situation you have to face.

Feeling anxiety helps us to survive by putting in place fight or flight behaviors, depending on the circumstances, and it is a natural human reaction. But when does it become a cause for concern?

Research shows that more and more people are having difficulty managing or regulating their anxiety. This may be due to many factors. One of them is the over-information of the media, which continually confronts us with uncertain scenarios that necessarily make us prepare ourselves for what we believe could happen. The rise of social networks and the comparison with others can be considered another important factor.

When we suffer from an anxiety disorder, the intensity, frequency and duration of this emotion is more intense. It generates a feeling of lack of control, discomfort, suffering and major changes in our relationships, work and family life that interfere significantly. Returning to the previous example, we could speak of an anxiety disorder when a person does not stop thinking or worrying about the health or safety of their family members to the point of not being able to lose contact with any of them.

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed more in women than in men and the WHO figures speak of 260 million people in the world who suffer from them, second in importance after depression.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are different types of anxiety disorders. We classify them in order to have a common code among professionals. Each patient is unique and the difficulties with anxiety regulation manifest themselves differently.

  • Panic disorder. It is characterized by panic attacks of extreme anxiety, unexpected and of short duration. Between each attack, the patient may be very worried that the episode will be repeated.
  • Agoraphobia. It is the fear or anxiety before a high number of situations where escape may be difficult. In extreme cases, it can relegate a person to not leaving home for a long period of time.
  • Social phobia. Fear of social situations for fear of being evaluated negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias. These are fears of specific issues, blood, animals, high places, medical procedures, flying, enclosed spaces.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. Persistent worry or anxiety about certain issues such as work, money, health or safety that is disproportionate to the impact of the events.
  • Separation anxiety. Excessive discomfort due to separation from attachment figures or from home. It is common in children and can last into adolescence.
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What causes anxiety disorders?

There is no single cause. We know that some people are more likely to respond to stressful situations with intense anxiety. The main factors that could influence are genetic and psychological vulnerability.

There are medical illnesses that can produce anxiety and should be taken into account, hyperthyroidism, coronary problems, diabetes.

We find many symptoms of anxiety in people suffering from some kind of addiction (coffee, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin), eating disorders, depression, sleep disorders, sexual problems, pathological gambling.

On the other hand, problems of daily life (family, work, social relationships) can be sources of worry and act as triggers of anxiety.

Being brought up in an environment of very fearful adults may contribute to a difficulty in regulating anxiety.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety are of three types:

  • Physiological responses.
    • Tachycardia.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Tingling.
    • Excessive sweating.
    • hot flushes
    • muscle weakness
    • ringing in the ears
    • Headaches.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Discomfort in the stomach.
    • dizziness
    • nausea
    • difficulty swallowing
  • Cognitive or thought responses
    • excessive worrying
    • difficulty making decisions
    • Negative thoughts about oneself.
    • Fear of loss of control.
    • Negative thoughts about our performance in front of others.
    • Problems concentrating, studying or thinking.
    • Low productivity.
    • Belief of going crazy.
  • Motor responses
    • Smoking, excessive eating or drinking.
    • Crying.
    • Pacing back and forth without purpose.
    • Stuttering.
    • Need to leave the situation that generates discomfort.
    • Repetitive movements, scratching, touching.
    • Becoming paralyzed.

There are scientifically proven and effective treatments to help people who are going through a moment of this type that in many cases take years to be diagnosed correctly. Consultations should be made with qualified mental health professionals, psychologists and psychiatrists. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the therapy of choice and the one used most successfully.

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Treatment of anxiety disorders

It will depend on the type of disorder and fundamentally on the patient who consults.

It is a treatment proposal with clear objectives, limited in time, and dynamic in terms of patient participation. It favors the change of behaviors and thoughts about reality and oneself that allows to regulate anxiety in a different, more realistic and more adaptive way.

For more information, consult a specialist in Psychology.