What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is a part of normal life. Most people feel anxious when facing a threat or a new challenge. An examination, job interview or important sporting contest can all produce normal anxiety. Indeed, anxiety is often helpful in these situations. But while too little anxiety might make us complacent, too much can make life very difficult.
How does anxiety affect us?
Anxiety affects us in a number of ways. Mentally, it can make us feel worried, interfere with our attention and concentration, and cause a subtle bias in the way we think — making us see the world as a scarier place than it really is.
Anxiety also produces a range of physical effects, such as a rapid pulse, dizzy turns, shaking, digestive upsets, sweatiness and a tendency to breathe too quickly — hyperventilation. It frequently leads to insomnia.
Anxiety also affects our behaviour, leading to an avoidance of situations we think will make us anxious.
Anxiety is abnormal when the amount of anxiety experienced is inappropriate for the situation. This abnormal anxiety may show itself as one of a group of illnesses, known as the anxiety disorders.
Conditions classified as anxiety disorders
Treatment for anxiety
There are several effective ways of treating anxiety disorders. Treatment may involve lifestyle measures, relaxation, counselling and medication.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a commonly used form of counselling for anxiety disorders. It incorporates education about anxiety and techniques like problem solving. As the name suggests, it helps people understand the way their thoughts about the anxiety-provoking situation shape their response to it, and how these behaviours can perpetuate the anxiety. The therapist works with the anxious person to start challenging these thoughts and modify their behaviours in a way that diminishes the anxiety.
CBT can be a highly effective form of therapy for a range of anxiety disorders and is generally preferred over medication for long-term treatment. CBT requires considerable practice on the part of the person being treated, and successful treatment will involve exposure to some anxiety along the way.