We have all felt anxious at some time, whether we call it feeling uneasy, on edge or uptight. It is perfectly natural to feel anxious and, in fact, to some degree it can have good effects such as toning us up for a big match or sharpening awareness for interview or exam.
But some forms of anxiety are not as healthy as others. If you get mildly worked up before an exam, that can be beneficial. However, if you cannot sleep well the night before, or begin to sweat profusely and feel nauseated as you enter the examination hall, this sis a more serious anxiety attack and if you find that this is part of a continuing pattern, you should seek help.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Our reaction to stress is an inbuilt survival mechanism that originally enabled us to act instantly when our lives were threatened. To prepare for action, the heartbeat strengthens to pump blood to all the muscles, and blood pressure rises.
When action has been taken and the danger is over or the problem resolved, the body relaxes and returns to normal once more. But when the threat is low-level and continuous as is common in the emotionally stressful situations of modern living, often no direct action can be taken to deal with it and the body will suffer the effects of long-term tension. Secondary symptoms can develop; these can include skin rashes, spots, weight problems (under or overweight). Strangely enough, those suffering from anxiety can also experience either increased aggression or the reverse effect, becoming completely inhibited, withdrawn and even extremely depressed.
KINDS OF ANXIETY
Anxiety takes many forms. Some have obvious causes, as a fear of dogs in someone who was bitten or frightened by one as a child. Other forms are not so clear and may include anxiety about a relationship which can make you sexually impotent or frigid. Occasionally the anxiety takes an unspecific form, such as sudden, unexplained panic on the way to the office or a sense of general hopelessness, about the state of the world (called ‘angst').
CAUSES OF ANXIETY
There are two main theories about the causes of anxiety. The first holds that it is due to a personality disorder that makes our psychological defences unable to work in the way they should. In other words, instead of recognizing the anxiety symptoms and dealing with them, the sufferer turns the symptoms into a pattern – one that is often self-destructive.
The second theory claims that there is a failure in some physical function, especially in the nervous system. This may be due to an imbalance of chemicals in the body. Supporters of this theory believe that these ‘malfunctions' can be cured by effective and painless drug therapy.
Thirdly, some theorists suggest that the causes of the problem are much simpler than either of these facts, is merely a result of modern life: the widespread loss of social and ethical values and a response to conditions over which we no longer feel we have any control.
TREATMENT OF ANXIETY
It is possible to try and cope with anxiety on your own. The first thing to do is to recognize and accept the symptoms and try to discover and face the causes.
But, if this self-help process is not enough – and not even with the aid of family and friends – it is best for you to consult the doctor. The doctor may refer you to psychotherapist who will help you discover and cope with the causes. This treatment may be carried out either in individual sessions or in the company of other anxiety sufferers in group psychotherapy.
Many doctors are suggesting alternative therapies, the purpose of most of them being to help you relax and gain a greater self-awareness. These may include yoga, breathing exercises, biofeedback or even meditation.