Anxiety is a normal part of life and we all experience it. Anxiety is beneficial when it spurs us to take action, like study for an exam or complete a project by the deadline. Anxiety also helps us to be cautious and vigilant during times of crises. For example, during this COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and fear drives us to practise social distancing and wear masks. However, when anxiety becomes too intense for a long period of time, or gets out of control, it becomes a psychiatric condition which results in more problems than good.
Anxiety disorders are common. Many of us can attest to experiencing intense anxiety at various points in our lives. The 2016 Mental Health Study done by the Institute of Mental Health, Ministry of Health & National Technological University found that 1.6% of our population suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
- A family history of anxiety disorders in our parents or siblings
- Having an anxious personality
- Stressful life events
- Females are more prone to anxiety disorders than males
TypesThe common types of anxiety disorders are:
- Agoraphobia – A fear of being in situations where escape is difficult. Commonly, the fear involves taking the bus or MRT; being in crowded places,tight spaces (like elevators) or open spaces. The commonality in all these situations is the irrational fear that escape is difficult or impossible if the person is not feeling well. For instance, they fear being trapped during a panic attack. Suffers may avoid leaving the house altogether, or they may only be willing to leave the home if someone accompanies them.
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – GAD manifests as excessive worries over multiple daily issues such as work, family, household chores and studies that persists over several months. GAD suffers know that they are over-worrying but they cannot help it. They may also experience muscle tension, poor sleep, reduced concentration, irritability and tiredness.
- Illness anxiety disorder – A fear of having a serious illness despite having only minor symptoms. They may visit multiple doctors but are not assured by the repeated medical checks. Some may have unexplained physical symptoms and end up worrying day and night, taking up much time and energy. The preoccupation and worry of having a serious illness becomes a central theme in life.
- Panic disorder – Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest tightness, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating, and feeling dizzy. This is accompanied with persistent worries about having more attacks or their consequences. This is called anticipatory anxiety.
- Social anxiety disorder – Also known as “social phobia”. This is a condition where one feels anxious during social situations (e.g. gatherings, parties, meetings and presentations). The person is worried and irrationally fearful of receiving bad feedback from others or leaving a bad impression. An example is excessive fear during school or company presentations which then results in poor performance. It is more than just performance anxiety as the fear arises in almost all social interactions.
- Specific phobia – This is irrational fear of specific object or situations. These can be animals, natural environment (e.g. heights, storms), blood or needles and situations (e.g. taking a plane). The level of fear is clearly out of proportion to the threat and danger posed by the specific object or situation. The person painstakingly avoids the object or situation and it may lead to problems with work or day-to-day life.
- Psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help.
- Medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are the other main form of treatment. There are also non-SSRI medications which are approved for the treatment of anxiety disorders and have a different side effects profile and mode of action.
- Finally, your doctor or therapist will advise you on lifestyle strategies that can be helpful.
You can refer to this article written by our experts for a more detailed discussion. https://www.privatespace.com.sg/post/understand-anxiety-symptoms-causes-treatment