There are a variety of different anxiety disorders which all have their own triggers and treatments; but there are also a lot of other mental illnesses where anxiety is a very prominent symptom, despite the condition not necessarily coming under the umbrella term of an anxiety disorder. We often hear a lot about these types of illnesses through the media – not always the most reliable source of information as a lot of stigma can be surrounded due to the way in which the illnesses are portrayed. You don’t often hear ‘success stories’ in relation to mental health (happiness doesn’t sell papers, right?) which may make it seem as though there aren’t any. This is wrong; you can live a fulfilled, happy life despite suffering with a mental illness. Its about getting the right treatment for you and us as people creating a more understanding and compassionate society for us all to live in.
The anxiety that I suffer with is called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD); it is defined by overwhelming worry about general life activities and events – not specific to just one thing like a phobia. It is a common anxiety disorder and people are usually diagnosed if they have been suffering with anxiety for a period of six months or more and it is having a significant impact on someones daily life. When I was in the worst periods of anxiety I found normal things very difficult – going to work, sleeping, eating, washing, extra curricular activities etc. This in turn became a vicious cycle; when you don’t eat or sleep well, it has a huge negative impact on your mental and physical health. If I was very tired, my anxiety levels would be much higher and then cause me to have an even worse sleeping pattern. This type of anxiety causes people to have a feeling of dread but not always knowing why; I have described it to loved ones before as a “cloak of dread” as I can physically feel it hanging over me. Things that people would normally worry about are heightened when you suffer with GAD; the worry is more intense and the fear more palpable. For me, a lot of what I expose my mind to can affect my level of anxiety, for example, watching too much news can create scenarios in my head that I struggle to force back out. It can consume my mind and cause me to be anxious about situations that would otherwise feel fine to me. When there were reports of terrorist attacks in this country I would immediately picture and start imagining being in that situation and convince myself that it was a very real possibility. This in turn made things like concerts, supermarkets, even London as a whole, a very daunting prospect for me at times.
A person with a panic disorder suffers with panic attacks – these can be extremely frightening and make someone feel like they are in immediate danger. People who have been diagnosed with this condition often have panic attacks with no real or obvious trigger and it can cause people to be very fearful of panic attacks occurring with no warning. I have experienced panic attacks over the years; thankfully they are few and far between nowadays but there was one point in my life where they were happening almost daily. I would panic about having a panic attack which would then cause one – a self-fulfilling prophecy! The symptoms I experienced were: racing heart, sweating, dizziness, feeling very sick, shaking, clammy, hyperventilating, dissociation (feeling like you’re not there, out-of-body experience, detached from reality), feeling like I couldn’t breathe.
Agoraphobia is an intense fear of situations in which you can’t escape easily from. This fear can cause people to become frightened of leaving the safe space of home due to the uncertainty of situations and whether they would be able to find a way out if needed. Agoraphobics can be scared of places such as public transport, crowded places etc. because these environments are deemed unpredictable and harder to escape from.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
People who suffer with OCD have either compulsions or obsessions, or both. They have a need to repeat certain actions or thoughts that they have over and over again. There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding OCD; people often think of someone with this condition as someone who cleans a lot. In some cases peoples obsessions or compulsions are related to being clean but not everyone. People can feel the need to perform rituals such as turning lights on a certain amount of times or counting, tapping or blinking a certain amount in order to relieve anxiety. If these compulsions/obsessions are ignored the sufferer can be overwhelmed with feelings that something bad will happen. People with OCD find it difficult to ignore these feelings for longer than a short period of time.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD):
Otherwise known as body dysmophia, this condition focuses anxieties and unpleasant thoughts and feelings about the way a person views their body/appearance. This can be very distressing and could lead to eating disorders and depression. Someone with BDD has negative thoughts about their bodies/appearance that are difficult to control and these thoughts affect their daily life.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
There are often misconceptions surrounding PTSD – a lot of people think that you can only suffer from it if you have experienced the trauma of war. Rightly so, a lot of veterans do and have suffered with PTSD; but it isn’t only experienced by our soldiers. PTSD can occur after someone has suffered a traumatic event, this can range from a terrorist attack to a car accident. Someone suffering with post traumatic stress disorder often has flashbacks of the event and certain things may be triggering for them. For example, a soldier may be triggered by loud bangs due to the memories of gunfire. Another symptom can be being overly frightened and alert – people can be constantly looking out for danger and in a state of ‘fight-or-flight’. This is a phrase often heard when talking about anxiety – it is a physiological reaction which tells our bodies to either fight or run when dealing with a threat. However, anxiety causes our brains to signal a threat when there isn’t one.