Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan
Psikiyatrist

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the most important functions of our mental world. It is a clear expression that our brain is in need of something. Specific requirements, such as hunger, thirst, sexual needs, are felt through the presence of anxiety. We can say that anxiety is an absolute must for human life. It is a functional mechanism from an evolutionary perspective. So, how come anxiety becomes a disorder despite having such a vital importance in human life? When anxiety is acute and lasts for a long period of time and gets out of control, this situation signifies the anxiety disorder.

What is anxiety and what are its symptoms?

Brain shows a series of reactions in the event that anxiety is acute. These are either oriented at avoiding a problem, or a state of exaggerated caution, which is equal to fighting. When detailed, the anxiety symptoms are as follows:

  • Severe tachycardia
  • Cold sweating
  • Shivering
  • Increase in breathing
  • Deterioration in blood acidity based on inhalation

are the primary anxiety symptoms.

It is characterized by the numbness and tingling in hands, arms, lips and fingers, and contraction in striated muscles as a result of all these factors. Contracted, all muscles feel like violin strings. If trapezius muscle is involved, a tension-type headache occurs. As a matter of fact, symptoms of anxiety can be described with this metaphor: The shape a fighting body will take is a summary of what’s going on in the event of extreme anxiety. Pupils expand to let the eyes see far away, the blood going into leg muscles increases, the blood going into skin muscles decreases, which means the fighting-related organs receive more blood. This includes brain, too. Cardiac veins expand, hyperventilation (frequent breathing), etc. occurs. Besides all those, it is possible to observe derealization (feeling alienated from outer world) and depersonalization (the state of a person feeling alienated from their own body and themselves) in the person.

What is anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorder is the state, in which the anxiety being felt is severe to the extent it prevents the attempts to be made to satisfy the need. For example, a person, who is in need of succeeding during an exam, failing to answer the questions in the state of excessive anxiety.

There are several defense mechanisms in the human brain in order to make excessive anxiety bearable. They can be divided into two main categories as successful or unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful defense mechanisms are the ones that fail to decrease the anxiety to a bearable point. Denial, for instance, is one of those. Think about it! What happens if a person in thirst denies his/her thirst due to the anxiety s/he feels? The thirst goes even bigger, the anxiety grows even stronger accordingly and, in parallel, it reaches a level of disorder instead of getting eliminated. Successful mechanisms, however, can be summarized as endeavors to determine the cause of anxiety and to produce solutions. There are sub-types varying based on the source of anxiety. Like generalized anxiety disorder, Panic disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Social anxiety disorder, Post-traumatic stress disorder, and Specific phobia. Individual may be experiencing more than one of those at the same time.

What is the treatment of anxiety disorders?

It is extremely important to make the right diagnosis in terms of the type of the anxiety disorder regarding the successful progress of the treatment process. Because the methods of treatment will vary based on the type of anxiety disorder. Of course, all of them are considered anxiety disorders under a single title, yet panic disorder, which is a sub-type, and post-traumatic stress disorder will not have the same treatment.

Excessive anxiety can be taken into consideration in three ways:

  • Psychotherapies, primarily CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Supportive therapy.
  • Pharmacotherapy to control the molecular changes in the brain (medication)
  • Finally, Deep TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) to fix the electro-physiological abnormalities that occur in neural tracks.

Of course, anxiety disorder may accompany other medical or psychiatric situations. In such cases, determining and treating the underlying cause must be the main strategy.

In addition to the aforementioned treatment types, there are some natural methods that the patients may pay attention on in order to relax and feel better. Like a healthy nutrition, consumption of probiotics and fermented foods, decreasing the level of caffeine, staying away from alcohol, quitting smoking, exercising frequently, or doing yoga.

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