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Chi-Chi photo Chi-Chi · 18 Aug, 2020

These are tricky times if you struggle with anxiety. But what IS anxiety - and when does normal anxiety become an anxiety disorder? Dr Chi-Chi has all the answers ....

Hello, I'm Dr Chi-Chi Obuaya, and I'm going to talk about anxiety.

We all experience anxiety. So it's something I want to reassure people about, that it's completely normal. Of course it can become more serious in certain situations. But anxiety has two main components, there are physical symptoms of anxiety, like feeling your heart racing, sweating, having shaking hands, a bit of tightness in your chest, a lump in your throat, and also psychological symptoms, so that feeling of being very nervous, being irritable, being on edge.

So we all experience it to varying degrees, but there are specific anxiety disorders that are worth spending a few minutes thinking about.

Anxiety might be more pronounced if, for example, we're having panic attacks. These might last for anything from a few seconds to up to an hour, and they tend to occur in response to a specific, stressful situation, maybe something traumatic has occurred, and they can occur on a regular basis, feel very overwhelming, and almost mimic the feeling of a heart attack, so they can be really overwhelming.

So that might occur as part of what we call a panic disorder or a generalised anxiety disorder, and that's where people experience panic, really throughout the day, and there's no apparent cause for it, and it can be really crippling and make us very withdrawn.

Obsessive compulsive disorder has two components, obsessional thoughts, these are often irrational, intrusive thoughts that just come into our head, and are really difficult to shake off. So thoughts that we might harm people, or that we're contaminated or in some sort of danger, and compulsive behaviours, these are repetitive things that take up a lot of time, so repetitive hand washing or cleaning or checking items, and these disrupt our daily lives.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a specific anxiety disorder that people who've had life threatening situations may encounter, and it's characterised by nightmares and flashbacks about the traumatic event, avoidance of things that remind us of that event, and a sense of ongoing danger, even when the danger has passed.

Anxiety disorders may be more common in people who've experienced a significant traumatic event, or those who have a family history of an anxiety disorder. I'd like to stress that there are often simple measures, whether it's breathing techniques for panic attacks, or engaging in regular meditation and relaxation or yoga, to try and combat anxiety.

But if it's becoming more pronounced and it's affecting your ability to interact with your friends and family, if you're having to turn to alcohol or drugs to try and manage your anxiety, those are markers that you need some professional help.

So do reach out to your GP, and psychological therapy is often the first port of call before we consider medication. So again, I want to reassure people that it's certainly not inevitable that you would need to take medication. There are lots of measures out there for treating anxiety. And if you want more information, the Royal College of Psychiatrists website has plenty of information about the various anxiety disorders. Thank you.




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