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Anxiety: What is it and how can I control it?

February 21, 2011

Since February is mental health month, today’s entry to discuss one of the most common mental health illnesses: Anxiety.

Types of Anxiety

According to the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition) there are approximately seven different types of anxiety disorders (visit www.dsm5.org for proposed changes). These are:

(a) Panic Disorder (with or without agoraphobia). Agoraphobia is a fear of places, or situations, in which escape would be difficult or embarrassing. For example, an individual with PD may have a panic attack when they are entering a small, enclosed area (e.g., elevator or closet).
(b) Phobia – anxiety that is provoked by a particular object (e.g., spiders, dogs) or a situation (e.g., driving, heights, flying).
(c) Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Here, the individual is plagued by having strange or unusual thoughts randomly enter their mind (obsession) that is entirely out of character for them. The individual may also engage in certain repetitive or stereotypic behaviours (compulsions) to reduce the stress caused by the obsession.
(d) Social Phobia – Experiencing significant anxiety when entering certain performance or social situations.
(e) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mentally re-experiencing an extremely traumatic event in one’s mind, then avoiding any cues that may trigger the memory for that event.
(f) Acute Stress Disorder. Symptoms similar to PTSD, but which occur immediately after the traumatic event.
(g) Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A diagnosis given when the individual experiences  persistent and excessive anxiety and worry for at least 6-months. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, one in 20 Canadians will suffer from GAD at some point in their lives.

If left untreated, anxiety disorders can worsen and begin to affect your physical health. For example, some of the anxiety disorders listed above have been linked with the development of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.

Tips and suggestions for minimizing anxiety.

I recently created a handout on the topic of anxiety for the Ontario Psychological Association (www.psych.on.ca). Here are some suggestions taken from the handout:
1.    Pay attention to any “Thought Distortions” or “Thinking Errors.” The things we tell ourselves have a dramatic impact on our anxiety levels. Pay attention to, and challenge, thoughts that lead to worry.
2.    Take care of your body. Get enough sleep, minimize caffeine intake, exercise regularly, and eat nutritious foods as often as possible. Providing your body with rest and proper fuel can go a long way to changing your mood and thoughts.
3.    Minimize alcohol and drug use. If you find yourself drinking or using drugs in order to reduce your anxiety levels, this is already a sign that anxiety is negatively affecting your life.
4.    Confront your fears. Much of our anxiety is based on experiences from our past. By confronting some of the things that create anxiety, you are confronting and overcoming the power these experiences have on your mental and emotional health.
5.    Seek professional help. Talk to a psychologist or other regulated mental health professional when symptoms of anxiety or worry that have lasted for several weeks.

Here are some useful sites: Canadian Psychological Association’s factsheets on anxiety (www.cpa.ca/psychologyfactsheets); The Anxiety Association of Canada (www.anxietycanada.ca).

Hoping today’s blog provides you with some knowledge to help you grow…

Dr. Richard Amaral

www.psychtoronto.ca

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