Anxiety may be related to “avoidant” behaviors

Anxiety is an emotional state, an adaptive and universal reaction. It appears before situations that represent a threat, or that are perceived as such, the person who suffers it.

This reaction generates a stimulation of the nervous system giving rise to an experiential, physiological, behavioral and cognitive response, characterized by a generalized state of alertness and attention. Although these anxiety reactions are normal, in some people this state of activation is so intense that it can be maladaptive; that is to say, it hinders or impedes normal day-to-day functioning.

Psychiatric experts state that pathological anxiety can be classified into different clinical pictures: generalized anxiety, anxiety crisis, social phobia or simple phobia. This classification is made according to the different ways of presenting itself. Each type of anxiety presents certain symptoms, although almost all present an excessive fear and an irrational fear that appears disproportionately before small stimuli or even spontaneously. Anxiety can also appear in the context of other clinical conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or psychosis.

How to treat anxiety?

In order to treat anxiety, it is first necessary to make a correct clinical diagnosis, since depending on the patient’s condition it can be different. For example, some conditions such as social phobia or simple phobias can be treated with psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioral techniques are, within psychotherapy, those that have demonstrated greater efficacy. In general, the objective of cognitive behavioral techniques is that, through controlled and progressive exposure to those situations that generate anxiety, the anxiety will subside. Other types of disorders, such as anxiety crisis disorder, may benefit from psychopharmacological approaches. In these cases a combination of antidepressants and anxiolytics is usually used.

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Regardless of the diagnosis and the treatment the patient should receive, it is important that the patient recognizes what is happening and is able to attribute his or her symptoms and behaviors to an anxiety-related problem. For example, in the case of panic attacks, the anxiety is so intense that it manifests itself with a multitude of somatic symptoms (tachycardia, shortness of breath, chest tightness, sweating, trembling, dizziness or muscle tension).

It is common that the patient who presents a problem related to anxiety has a tendency to avoid certain situations that are linked to anxiety, such as places where there are many people or the car among others. It is necessary to avoid that these “avoidance” behaviors end up being a problem or limitation in the patient’s life, so they have to be identified as a behavioral consequence of anxiety, face them and deal with them.

The severity of an anxiety disorder is often more related to avoidant behaviors and their functional impact on daily life than to the anxiety symptoms themselves.

Common sense should prevail in the management of anxiety problems and, before considering any type of psychological or pharmacological intervention, a series of strategies related to healthy lifestyle habits should be put into practice. For example, structured schedules, sleep hygiene measures, regular exercise, avoidance of stimulant beverages and alcohol, time for leisure, family and friends.