Anxiety, Panic & Phobias

Anxiety is a state of fear or worry often associated with muscle tension.  Sometimes the level of anxiety is relieved through avoidance behaviours – especially if anxiety is associated with certain places or people.  Some level of anxiety and stress is normal, especially with regards to specific situations that we can address like writing an examination or making a public speech.  Anxiety is a problem when it becomes excessive and is not appropriate to the context.  Some of the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder include the following (never self-diagnose – this is just a checklist that can help you decide whether you should consult a mental health practitioner):

  • Excessive anxiety and worry for most of the time
  • Difficulty in staying in control of the worry
  • Restlessness, feeling “on edge”
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleeping difficulties

Panic attacks are sudden, recurring experiences that may feel very much like a heart attack; these are abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort that reach a peak within minutes, accompanied with physical symptoms.  Panic attacks can be expected (in response to exposure to a specific, known situation) or unexpected (occurring for no apparent reason).  With panic disorder, people are persistently worried about having more panic attacks and will often avoid situations that they believe may cause a panic attack, for example avoiding exercise or unfamiliar locations.  Some of the symptoms of panic disorder include the following (never self-diagnose – this is just a checklist that can help you decide whether you should consult a mental health practitioner):

  • Palpitations, pounding heart or increased heart rate
  • Sweating, trembling or shaking
  • Shortness or breath or a choking feeling
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

A phobia is a specific fear regarding an object or situation and people with phobias will usually go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to their phobia.  These typically involve phobias about animals, heights, or certain social situations.  Some fears are realistic and appropriate; phobias are excessive and irrational fears that are not appropriate to the context.  A phobia may be recognised by the following symptoms (never self-diagnose – this is just a checklist that can help you decide whether you should consult a mental health practitioner):

  • Fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation
  • The phobic object or situation provokes immediate fear and anxiety
  • The phobic object or situation is actively avoided, or endured with intense fear or anxiety
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the object or situation
  • The fear, anxiety or avoidance interferes with a person’s social, work or other areas of life.

Treatment

Anxiety-related difficulties are treatable.  There are various types of treatment available and results vary.  Different people respond better to some treatments that others, so it is key find the right combination or best approach for each individual client.

Typical treatments for anxiety-related difficulties include therapy such as Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or medication – or a combination.

CBT is a well-established, evidence-based therapy that focuses on changing thinking and behaviour patterns.  It often involves teaching of coping skills and homework assignments.  The purpose of CBT is to help the client learn to control their thinking, maintain a sense of control and self-confidence and learn coping skills that can be used in many different situations.