This page covers GAD, OCD, Health Anxiety or Phobias.
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease or worry. It is common for all of us to feel anxiety at some point in our lives e.g. at a job interview or when sitting for an exam. Some people find it impossible to control their worrying this feeling is more constant and starts to affect their daily lives. Symptoms of anxiety can range from mild to severe. An individual may feel anxiety in specific situations only or generally in all situations. The most common treatment for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is a long-term condition where you feel anxious in a wide range of situations rather than a specific event. Slightly more women than men are affected by GAD. People with GAD feel anxious most days and can struggle to feel relaxed. As soon as one worry thought is solved another will appear on a different issue.
There has not been a specific reason for GAD, but research suggests some imbalance of brain chemicals (e.g. serotonin & noradrenaline) that are involved in the control and regulation of mood results in GAD. There is also a genetic link to anxiety so if your parents had GAD, you are more likely to develop it. Some other causes of GAD include experiencing stressful or traumatic events like domestic violence, childhood abuse or bullying, chronic painful health conditions, or having a history of substance misuse. However, many people have none of the above and can still have GAD.
Some mental and physical symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling restless
- Worried thoughts
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep disturbance
- Heart palpitations
Things that can help are CBT or antidepressants called SSRIs. Exercising has been seen to help as well as reducing smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health condition where the individual has obsessive thoughts which can be managed through compulsive behaviours. OCD can cause major disruptions to one’s life and cause distress to the individual having it. People with OCD tend to feel ashamed or embarrassed of their condition.
There are various causes of OCD: family history of OCD; life events such as bullying, abuse or neglect; after an important life event; personality traits i.e. having high personal standards, or people who are generally more anxious.
Individuals who have OCD tend to have frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. An obsession can be an unwanted, unpleasant or intrusive thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind that causes feelings of anxiety, discomfort and, at times disgust. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel compelled to do, to relieve the unpleasant feeling brought on by the obsessive thought. OCD symptoms can vary in severity. These compulsive acts provide temporary relief from obsessive thoughts.
OCD can be treated and you can understand more about your symptoms and learn skills through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) where graded exposure and response prevention method are incorporated.
Health anxiety is a form of anxiety where you spend an excessive amount of time worrying about whether you’re ill or getting ill till it starts causing disruptions to your daily life. This condition is also more commonly known as hypochondria. Some people with health anxiety may have an actual medical condition which they worry about excessively while others, might have medically unexplained symptoms. On other occasions, people may worry excessively about their future health.
Here are a few signs and symptoms of health anxiety:
- Constantly worrying about your health
- Constantly checking your body for any lumps, tingling or pain
- Seeking reassurance from those around you that you are not ill; seeking medical help from doctors, specialists etc.
- Fear of the recurrence of symptoms from a previous illness; heightened vulnerability or susceptibility to certain illnesses
- Worry that medical examinations have missed something
- Obsessively looking on media for health information
- Avoidance of content related to serious illnesses
- Acting as if you are ill thus missing out on some activities
Health anxiety can be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Phobias are a type of anxiety. A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. Phobias are more pronounced than fears, formed by an exaggerated perception of danger about a situation or object. Thus, even thinking about the source of the phobia can make a person feel anxious. In extreme cases, phobias can cause an individual to organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety and distress. There are 2 broad groupings of phobias:
- Specific or simple phobias revolve around a particular object, animal, situation or activity e.g. animal phobias, bodily phobias, environmental phobias, sexual phobias, situational phobias. These kinds of phobias develop at childhood or adolescence and may subside over time as one gets older.
- Complex Phobias can be more disabling, developing during adulthood and are associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance e.g. agoraphobia or social phobia
Panic disorder is a form of anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear. Someone with panic disorder has feelings of anxiety, stress and panic regularly and for no apparent reason. Panic disorders can arise after you have experienced a traumatic or stressful life experience (e.g. death), genetics do play a role in causing panic disorder, or if biologically you have an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Panic disorder is more commonly seen in teenagers than younger children. Experiencing this as a child or teen can be scary and distressing hence it would be helpful for parents/guardians to create a safe environment for them to voice their concerns.
Symptoms of panic disorder:
- Feelings of unease, worry and fear and in the most severe occurrences anxiety
- Panic attacks which are a rush of physical and mental symptoms that can come on for no apparent reason. This can be frightening and distressing for the person experiencing it as it can last for a duration of 5-20 minutes. Here are some things you may feel when having a panic attack (note that these symptoms can also be symptoms of other conditions or problems):
- A racing heartbeat
- Nausea or dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Chills or hot flushes
- A choking sensation
- Churning stomach
- Tingling in your fingers
- Feeling like you’re not connected to your body.
Treatment for panic disorders will focus on reducing the number of panic attacks you have and reducing the symptoms you feel. The most effective treatment method used would be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). At times, and in the most severe cases, medication may be recommended. However, medication is a short-term solution and is used to assist with long-term therapy work.
Here are some things you can try on your own, during the next panic attack:
- Do not fight it
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Remember that the attack will pass and this is not life-threatening even though it may feel that way
- Focus on images that you feel are peaceful and relaxing