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Anxiety Disorders

Description

Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. Feeling a bit of anxiety is very normal. Anxiety protects us and can help us cope with a worrying or perhaps dangerous situation. Anxiety is felt as a fear whose cause is difficult to pinpoint. This feeling is accompanied by physical symptoms and, at times, psychological symptoms as well.

It is natural to feel a certain level of anxiety in some circumstances, for instance, when experiencing a life-changing event such as a wedding or a divorce. It is also normal to be anxious on the eve of an exam, when going through a job interview or during a sporting event. Anxiety is therefore linked to specific events and subsides when life resumes its normal course.

However, anxiety becomes a problem if:  

  • It does not stop when a  worrying situation returns to normal
  • It has no connection to a life event, and occurs with no reason
  • It is so strong, it completely consumes you
  • It prevents you from functioning and behaving normally at work, in society or in other areas of daily life

Such anxiousness can thus be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

At least 10% of Quebecois have anxiety disorders symptoms.

The Main Types of Anxiety Disorders

The most common types of anxiety disorders are the following:

Symptoms

Someone with anxiety disorder can experience various physical and psychological discomforts of varying degrees that accompany their feeling of anxiety.

Physical Symptoms

Here are the most common physical symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations (heart beating abnormally fast)
  • A choking feeling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hot flashes, or the opposite, chills
  • High blood pressure
  • Trembling, sometimes affecting the whole body
  • Tightening and chest pains
  • Numbness or tingling sensation

Psychological Symptoms

The most common psychological symptoms are the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A sense of unease

When to Consult

Do not wait to be unable to conduct your usual activities in order to consult. If you have symptoms, you can consult certain organisations and associations working with anxiety disorders. They offer information, help and support.

However, see your family doctor or another health professional if you experience one of the following situations:

  • You are suffering to a degree that your emotions prevent you from functioning normally
  • You have difficulty fulfilling your social, professional or family responsibilities

A health professional can assess whether you have anxiety disorder or another health problem with similar symptoms. To be properly assessed, it could be necessary to conduct a physical exam or to prescribe laboratory tests. You will be proposed a treatment plan that is adapted to your needs.

See the Help and Resources section to find resources available to you.

If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety, or that of people around you, see the Preventing Suicide page. You will find further information on help and resources available.

Treatment

Anxiety disorders are illnesses that can be treated. There are known treatments available to treat this disorder. Treatments allow people affected to regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier an affected person consults with a doctor, the faster he or she will recover.

In most cases, anxiety disorders are treated very effectively with psychotherapy, anti-anxiety medication, or a combination of these 2 treatments.

Psychotherapy Sessions

Experts generally recommend cognitive behavioural therapy to treat anxiety disorders. This psychotherapy aims to change the individual’s thoughts and problematic behaviour, and replaces them with thoughts and responses appropriate to reality. It helps understand the origins of the problem and to find solutions.

Other therapies are also available and are recommended according to the type of anxiety disorder to be treated.

Anti-anxiety Medication

Different medicines can be used to treat anxiety disorders, including antidepressants and anxiolytics.

The Effect of Antidepressants and Anxiolytics

Antidepressants are medicines that fight depression. In the treatment of anxiety disorders, they help reduce symptoms of anxiety and re-establish the brain’s chemical balance. They rebalance:

Anxiolytics are medicines that help reduce symptoms of anxiety. They also help reduce stress and allow you to sleep better. Examples of anxiolytics include sleeping pills, as well as tranquilisers that reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

Recommendations for Taking Medication

If your doctor prescribes you medicines, it is important to take them by carefully following instructions provided.

You must also be patient in order to see results. Re-establishing chemical balance can take as much as 4 to 8 weeks.

Even if you feel better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed in order to prevent your symptoms from reappearing.

If you have uncomfortable side-effects due to the medication, discuss the issue with your doctor promptly. They will likely recommend another medicine.

Complications

People with anxiety disorders know that their behaviour is irrational and that it affects their lives. Thus, they often end up feeling inadequate and depressed.

Certain symptoms associated with anxiety disorders can also lead to depression if they are not treated rapidly. These particularly include fatigue, sleeping difficulties and headaches. Depression very frequently accompanies anxiety disorders.

People with anxiety disorders often try to control their anxiety by drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Hence, they may develop a dependency problem.

Conflicts can also occur with close relations, who do not always understand the behaviour of the person affected. These conflicts impact the life of the individual and their family.

Protection and Prevention

It is not always possible to prevent anxiety disorders. However, if you have symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, you can act now. Advice on maintaining good mental health will help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes will not heal you, but they can help you eliminate factors that worsen or maintain your condition.

Risk Factors

Anxiety disorders do not always have a single cause. Often, it is a combination of several factors resulting in the onset of symptoms of anxiety disorders. The following are examples of these factors:

  • A biological vulnerability to stress which makes an individual naturally more fragile and more likely to experience stress
  • Certain health problems, such as respiratory disease or hyperthyroidism (thyroid gland disease that results in the excessive production of hormones)
  • Abuse or consumption (even just once) of certain substances such as caffeine or stimulant drugs such as cocaine
  • Withdrawal from caffeine, drugs or alcohol, in the case of someone in the weaning process
  • The presence of stress factors in a person’s life. These factors may be related to their family, social or professional environment
  • A person’s temperament, someone with a low self-esteem or who has difficulty adapting to different life situations, for instance

People at Risk

In adults, women are twice more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder.

Special Cases

Several famous artists, politicians, bankers, scientists and athletes that have suffered from anxiety disorders have contributed to society in significant ways. These examples remind us that recovery is always possible, even in cases where the illness is serious. Here are 2 famous examples:

  • Stefie Shock, author, singer-songwriter, suffers from a panic disorder. He is now the spokesperson for Revivre, an organisation that helps people suffering from anxiety disorders, depression or bipolar disorder and their close relations
  • Jennifer Aniston, American actress, director and producer, has a fear of flying

Each has accomplished things in their respective field that have inspired and continue to inspire people. In thinking of them, their achievements stand ahead of their illness.

Help and Resources

Help and Support Resources

Resources are available for help and to obtain further information about anxiety disorders:

Resources for Care and Services

To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you are comfortable, contact one of the following resources:

To find contact information for your family medicine clinic, your CISSS or your CIUSSS, go to Finding a Resource.

Last update: October 16, 2015 3:16 PM

The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a health professional.

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