Anxiety disorder diagnosis: When anxiety becomes a constant companion

12. June 2019

The throat tightens, the pulse races, the hands are sweaty, the breath becomes shallow. The feeling of fear and its typical symptoms are familiar to pretty much everyone, because it is deeply anchored in us and has proven important for survival in evolution. It is the internal warning system that protects us from dangers in the environment. Be it wild animals, great heights, extreme speeds or physical violence – we instinctively know what poses a threat to us.

Fear is quite useful to us in these cases! It is necessary to protect life and either leave the situation as quickly as possible or fight (“flight or fight”). But what if the fear appears (apparently) for no reason or takes on extreme forms in certain situations? When it is so present that it gets in the way of a normal life? We are then talking about an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders in focus

Different types of mental illnesses gather under the term anxiety disorder. Sometimes it is not so easy to find out what exactly is present in oneself or in relatives. The commonality of the disorders lies in the symptom or the main emotion of anxiety, which, however, is caused by different triggers. In the overview you will find the forms of anxiety disorder listed in the WHO (World Health Organization) diagnostic manual with their typical signs and symptoms.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder involves anxiety that builds up to a panic attack. The anxiety can occur in any situation. Panic disorder is characterized by single episodes of intense anxiety that begin abruptly and last for a few minutes. A panic attack manifests itself with the following symptoms, among others:

– changes in heart rate
– sweating
– trembling and dizziness
– dry mouth
– nausea
– difficulty in breathing and chest pain
– feeling of fear of death

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia often occurs together with panic disorder, but it can also occur alone. Its main symptom is avoidance of situations in which help cannot be obtained in an emergency. These situations include, for example, large crowds, car or bus travel, elevators, and movie theaters.

Specific phobias

The fear is linked to a specific trigger. This is the main sign of a phobia. Just thinking about this trigger can cause intense anxiety symptoms. Common phobias include: Arachnophobia: fear of spiders, Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces, Acrophobia: fear of heights, Aerophobia: fear of flying, Trypanophobia: fear of injections.

Social phobia

Strictly speaking, it belongs to the specific phobias, but it is often listed separately. It refers to the fear of social situations and, in particular, the fear of being the center of attention and the fear of behaving embarrassingly.

Generalized anxiety disorder

This primarily includes symptoms such as a constant and excessive feeling of worry and tension about everyday things, such as finances, accidents to loved ones, health of loved ones, One’s own health, Indefinite anxiety.

The panic on the back of your neck: how anxiety disorder sufferers feel

The above symptoms of the various anxiety disorders are quite abstract, and you may find it difficult to comprehend these feelings in concrete terms. Try to imagine that you are in a seemingly hopeless situation. Your body seems to fail and you lose control over your current situation and yourself. One affected person describes her emotions and feelings during a panic attack as follows:

“Even though I know it is absurd, I am emotionally convinced I am going to die during a panic attack. The fear is so oppressive and real that I can’t distract myself.”

Quotation from a sufferer

At the beginning she was even convinced “to go crazy”. Probably everyone can imagine how stressful it must be to experience such fears every day. Talking to sufferers makes it easier to understand how exactly an anxiety disorder can feel.

Symptoms Anxiety Disorder: Finding the Right Diagnosis

You probably realize that the field of anxiety disorders is quite broad. A specific phobia may still be easy to recognize, but months to years often pass before the symptoms of an anxiety disorder are recognized and panic disorder or agoraphobia is diagnosed. This is because most people understandably first think of a physical illness when they experience symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, nausea and trembling. Many patients have made countless visits to the doctor, but without any findings that explain the symptoms. The correct diagnosis can then be quite a relief!

Anxiety disorders are not rare!

Together with depression, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. Every tenth German suffers in his life a disorder from this spectrum (Wittchen & Hoyer,2006). Chronic stress, mental strain, and other psychological signs are considered risk factors. But there is something more behind an anxiety disorder and its symptoms. The following patterns are found in many sufferers:

  • A panic disorder often affects people who are very sensitive to physical stimuli and perceive them better than their peers. If, for example, the heartbeat changes or there is slight trembling, these stimuli are overinterpreted and it begins a devil’s circle from the evaluation of bodily sensations as threatening / scary and the buildup of panic.
  • Agoraphobia often develops in conjunction with a panic attack when panic symptoms are experienced in a specific location. During a panic attack, the affected person feels extremely helpless and goes through terrible anxiety. This is then associated with the place and the place is avoided in the future as a consequence.
  • In specific phobias, it is sometimes the case that a scary event triggers the phobia (e.g., a dog bite leading to a phobia of dogs). Often, however, the individuals have never encountered the fearful stimulus before, but it is so-called primal fears (spiders, heights, depths…).
  • In the social phobia are often already before the disease a high shyness and anxiety. If situations are then added, in which the person must be the center of attention, this is exacerbated (eg, at school, university or work).

Other factors in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders are genetic predispositions (family members are also ill), the upbringing in terms of dealing with anxiety and biological factors, such as too few neurotransmitters in the brain. One also speaks of a “multifactorial development”.

Anxiety disorders and everyday life ?

A normal everyday life is hardly possible in severe cases, because the feeling of fear is so dominant that affected people are severely restricted in their lifestyle. The feelings of anxiety and panic attacks are experienced very intensely and have a long lasting effect. Those affected feel a loss of control over themselves and not infrequently have the fear of going crazy. How can one still concentrate on everyday tasks?

Help for anxiety disorders

The good news is that anxiety disorders are considered very treatable (Wittchen & Hoyer, 2006). Indeed, often the behavior has been “learned” and sufferers can unlearn it with the help of psychotherapy (Becker, 2009). Cognitive behavioral therapy methods have been found to be most effective. It involves changing thoughts related to anxiety symptoms, breaking through the negative evaluations of anxiety, and confronting the fearful stimuli again step by step.

What to do about acute anxiety?

Anxiety is definitely not a nice feeling. Do we suffer from it ourselves or do we notice that people in our environment suffer from anxiety, you want first aid measures for the “emergency”. In the boxes you will find helpful thoughts, tips and tricks. Simply move your mouse over the squares.

The good news is that anxiety disorders are considered very treatable (Wittchen & Hoyer, 2006). Indeed, often the behavior has been “learned” and sufferers can unlearn it with the help of psychotherapy (Becker, 2009). The methods of cognitive behavioral therapy have been found to be most effective. It involves changing one’s thoughts in relation to the anxiety symptoms, breaking through the negative evaluations of anxiety, and confronting the fearful stimuli again step by step.

What to do about acute anxiety?

Anxiety is definitely not a nice feeling. Do we suffer from it ourselves or do we notice that people in our environment suffer from anxiety, you want first aid measures for the “emergency”. In the boxes you will find helpful thoughts, tips and tricks. Simply click on the squares.

1. Limits of the panic attack

A panic attack cannot extend indefinitely and is not fatal. Anxiety rises quickly, but then also drops quickly. Our cardiovascular system can handle short episodes of anxiety.

2. Unfounded fear

Fear used to be quite useful to us, it is an emotion like any other emotion. Now the body has overreacted, and makes us feel an unfounded very strong fear.

3. Acceptance

Do not minimize the fear, but accept it: It is there, for whatever reason, now it has to be dealt with.

4. Distraction

Distracting helps: use other physical stimuli such as tapping or massaging.

5. Avoidance

Avoid: To prevent anxiety from taking over your entire life, face anxiety-provoking situations as best you can.

6. Professional help

Professional help is important: seek advice from a doctor or psychotherapist.

Facing Anxiety

Anxiety disorders literally give us quite a scare. And they do so constantly and without warning. But it doesn’t have to go on like this! You can learn to deal with anxiety differently and evaluate it differently in your mind. Over time, the symptoms become weaker and more controllable. So gather your courage and stand up to anxiety. With the right therapy, you can shake off anxiety as a constant companion and go about your daily life in a detached way again!

Source

(1) Becker, E.S. (2009). Textbook of behavior therapy. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer
Wittchen, H. U., & Hoyer, J. (2006). Clinical psychology & psychotherapy (Vol. 1131). Heidelberg: Springer.

Categories: Anxiety disorders

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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