Anxiety is a natural feeling which everyone gets from time to time, but for some people, anxiety is experienced as an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorder, and these can stop people from living their life in a normal way.

What is anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder describes fear or being judged, or awkwardness in social settings; generalised anxiety disorder is marked by excessive worry and fear which is usually free-floating in nature; panic disorder is a frightening feeling that can strike at unexpected times, causing sweating and chest pains; and phobias describe the fear of a specific thing or situation, such as animals, heights or confined spaces, which often leads people to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid their feared thing or situation. There are also other anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), selective mutism, and separation anxiety disorder.

Among the main symptoms of anxiety disorders are: heart palpitations, breathlessness, sweating, chills or hot flushes, nausea, abdominal upset including loose stools, insomnia, numb or cold hands, restlessness, dry mouth and dizziness.

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Causes of anxiety?

A single cause for anxiety disorders has not been found. They are understood to stem from several factors, including an individual's genes, certain environments and brain changes.

Diagnosing anxiety

Diagnosis of anxiety can involve; a physical examination to check for signs that an individual's anxiety is linked to an underlying medical condition, or medication; urine tests, blood tests and other tests which might reveal a medical condition; questioning about the nature, severity and frequency of your symptoms; a review of your medical history; or psychological questionnaires.

Treatment of anxiety

The treatment which is chosen for an anxiety disorder will typically depend on how significantly the condition is impacting on your everyday activities. There are two main treatments for anxiety disorder - psychotherapy and medications. In many cases, people benefit from a combination of psychotherapy and medications. In order to find the best combination of treatments for you, some trial and error may be required.

Psychotherapy - which is also known as psychological counselling or talk therapy - usually involves work with a therapist in order to bring symptoms under control. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is recognised as being one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for anxiety. It focuses on building skills to manage your worries and help you return to daily activities - some of which you may have been avoiding - gradually. Throughout this process, symptoms can improve as these skills are developed.

Medications which are used to treat anxiety include; anti-depressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), which are considered 'first line' treatments; buspirone, which can be used continuously and can take several weeks to become effective; and benzodiazepines, which are used for the relief of acute anxiety with suddenly developing symptoms, and are used on a short term basis. Benzodiazepines may not be suitable for those with alcohol or drug abuse problems, as they can be habit forming.

There are also some lifestyle changes which can be effective in treating anxiety, including; getting adequate sleep, keeping physically active, relaxation techniques, and avoiding a lot of caffeinated drinks.