Research Therapies — 19 January 2017

Life has a way of creating anxious moments. It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially if your life is stressful.

However, excessive ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalised anxiety disorder. Living with generalised anxiety disorder can be a long-term challenge, as this feeling can interfere with daily activities such as workplace performance, school work and relationships.anxiety

Rachna Pande, an internal specialist, defines anxiety disorders as a group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear.

“Anxiety is the fear, worry or nervousness about something with an uncertain outcome. It can be a worry about future events and fear is a reaction to current events. Examples include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder,” she says.

Pande explains that these feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as a fast heart rate and shakiness. The disorder differs by what results in the symptoms. People often have more than one anxiety disorder.

“Once in a while, everybody feels anxious due to some challenging or stressful situation like financial or health issues for self, family or facing an interview. But to feel anxious with no such situation or worry about trivial things is anxiety disorder. It is said to be due to changes in the neural circuit of the brain caused by hereditary and environmental factors,” she says.

According the medic, the symptoms include panic, fear, uneasiness, problems sleeping, cold or sweaty hands or feet, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, not being able to be still and calm, dry mouth, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, nausea, muscle tension, and dizziness.

She explains that the cause of anxiety disorders is a combination of genetic and environmental factors with risk factors including a history of child abuse, a family history of mental disorder personality disorder, and substance use disorder.

“Use of alcohol, excess use of caffeine, over the counter medications like anti-cold medications, chronic anaemia, chronic malnutrition, chronic stress, and presence of other psychiatric problems like depression, are some of the risk factors for anxiety disorder. Apart from these, hereditary factors are also known to cause the disorder,” she says.

How it can be prevented

In most cases, generalised anxiety disorder improves with medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy). Making lifestyle changes, learning coping skills and using relaxation techniques can also help according to medical experts.

Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the director of Mental Health Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, points out that if one’s lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful they are more likely to feel anxious, whether or not they actually have an anxiety disorder.

She advises that individuals ought to seek counselling and support if you start to regularly feel anxious with no apparent cause.

“If you feel like you worry too much, take some time to evaluate how well you are caring for yourself. If your stress levels are high, stress management by giving up, turning down, or delegating responsibilities to others can help. If you’re feeling isolated or unsupported, find someone you trust to confide in. Talking with a trusted friend or member of the clergy can also provide support, but it is not necessarily a sufficient alternative to care from an expert clinician,” she says.

Pande also advises reduction of consumption of products that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks and chocolate.

“Ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines or herbal remedies. Some may contain chemicals that can increase anxiety symptoms,” she adds.

Treatment

Without treatment anxiety disorders tend to remain. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medication and counselling which is typically a type of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Pande explains that medication such as antidepressants or beta blockers, may improve one’s condition. To be diagnosed, symptoms typically need to be present for at least six months, be more than would be expected for the situation and decrease functioning of the brain. Other psychiatric and medical problems can be treated by simply withdrawing from certain drugs, she adds.

“Treatment includes counselling to make sure the patient does not get stressed unnecessarily over trivial things. Behaviour and cognitive therapy can also be used. Drugs like anxiolytics and tranquilisers are used to help the person overcome troublesome symptoms of anxiety.

“Learning to relax helps the person keep calm. If the affected person is kept busy mentally, it helps in reducing the problem as his mind is diverted to some extent. Giving up alcohol, excess caffeine, any other abusive substance being used helps to prevent as well as treat anxiety disorder,” Pande says.

This piece was originally published on ‘The NewsTimes’ on January 16, 2017.

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