Anxiety is a mental disorder that can be very disabling on a daily basis. How to recognize it? What are its causes ? And can we cure it? Explanations.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a diffuse feeling of fear faced with a danger that is not necessarily identified.
“Fear is a healthy reaction that allows us to protect ourselves, recalls Doctor Guillaume Fond, psychiatrist author of I make my Life a Great Project (Flammarion 2018). But as soon as fear is not associated with a given object and that it lasts over time, we speak of anxiety, or even of anxiety disorder when this emotion is crippling on a daily basis. “
Concretely, “there is a portal phenomenon in the brain which analyzes the context and lets in or not the information of a danger. In anxious people, this analysis of the context is altered and all situations, even ordinary ones, are perceived as threatening “, he describes.
What forms can it take?
Anxiety disorders can take different forms. A first is generalized anxiety, which is diffuse, persistent, and crippling on a daily basis.
Anxiety can also result in panic attacks repeated or from anxiety attacks. The panic attack has a definite beginning and end. It lasts less than 15 minutes while the anxiety attack is more diffuse.
When the anxiety focuses on one or more very specific situations, doctors talk about phobias specific: spiders, cramped spaces, plane travel … But “However, we must not pathologize everything”, tempers Doctor Fond: “It is normal, for example, to have certain phobias such as the fear of flying, of heights or of driving, which are abnormal situations”.
The social phobia corresponds to the fear of feeling embarrassment, humiliation or rejection during social interactions. She is very ordinary – “public speaking generates anxiety in most people” – and the problems it poses are daily.
L’agoraphobia, defined as the irrational fear of the great outdoors, is another form of anxiety. There are also anxieties of separation or abandonment – the excessive fear of being separated from loved ones – performance anxieties – which appear at each test or examination – or anticipatory anxieties that focus on upcoming events, whether important or trivial.
What are the causes of anxiety?
Anxiety has several possible causes, which can be combined. The family history, first of all : “due to genetic and educational factors, children of anxious parents are more likely to be anxious”, notes Doctor Fond.
The environment then: “a person exposed early to a stressful or traumatic event – sexual violence, physical assault, early parental loss … – has a greater risk of triggering an anxiety disorder “.
Inflammatory diet is also a risk factor for anxiety, as is lack of physical activity and smoking. “A worrying factor since 40% of French people do not practice any physical activity!”, the psychiatrist worries.
Finally, the consumption of alcohol or drugs, the taking of certain medications or the existence of other mental or physical health problems can play a role.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Several symptoms are characteristic of anxiety disorders, for example the acceleration of heart rate and breathing, the tendency to sweat excessively, flushing of the face (or even of the neckline), the feeling of imminent danger, but also pain (headaches, stomach aches, digestive disorders …) and physical signs (knots in the stomach, urge to urinate constantly, chills …). There may be additional visible signs: tremors, dizziness.
How is anxiety treated?
Several solutions exist against anxiety disorders. Taking omega 3 food supplements (especially DHA over 400 mg per day) are effective in anxiety disorders, as well as smoking cessation, abdominal breathing, cardiac coherence, intermittent fasting and physical activity.
“Psychotherapies, such as behavioral and cognitive therapy (CBT) including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness meditation therapy, gratitude therapy and EMDR therapy are for example very effective against anxiety disorders “, list Dr. Fond.
On the medication side, antidepressants are the standard treatment against anxiety disorders, even if the person does not have depression. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of anxiolytics: “they are effective in the short term but present a risk of addiction: the dose must be regularly increased to obtain the same effects”, warns the psychiatrist.
How is the diagnosis made?
The diagnosis begins with an awareness: “The patient can look for himself at the definition of anxiety disorders, for example counting the number of panic attacks that strike him per day or per month or make an analysis of the triggering situations using published manuals for patients (also called “self-help”) “, advises Dr. Fond in his book Become the best version of yourself in 3 steps (Ellipses 2019).
Most it will be necessary to consult as soon as the anxiety is excessive in relation to the situation experienced, that it disrupts daily activities and that the person who suffers from it can no longer regulate it. At a general practitioner or a psychiatrist, the diagnosis of anxiety disorder requires a complete interview: type of disorders felt, intensity, frequency, duration, presence of any associated trauma, repercussions on family, social and professional life, consumption of psychotropic drugs or even deterioration of cognitive functions and quality of life.
In which cases should medication be taken? “If lifestyle changes and psychotherapy alone are not enough to cure anxiety, or if the anxious person does not have the time or the means to undertake one”, it will be necessary to turn to the taking of drugs, according to the doctor Fond.
Can we prevent anxiety?
Part of the way to prevent anxiety is. This requires a modification of the way of life: “take care of your sleep, practice regular physical activity and opt for a anti-inflammatory diet“, advises the psychiatrist.
At last, “surround yourself with positive and reassuring people, as much as possible”, is a good way to prevent anxiety.
In the event of an anxiety attack, how to react to evacuate it?
What to do in the event of a crisis ? We must first differentiate the panic attack from the anxiety attack. The first lasts less than 15 minutes: it manifests itself by “a feeling of imminent death, rapid heartbeat and paralysis”. The second is more diffuse and without the impression of imminent death.
“In a panic attack, not in an emergency, the patient should know that whatever they do, the attack will end quickly, reassures the specialist. In the event of an anxiety attack, the abdominal breathing technique is very effective because it slows down the rate of breathing and lowers the diaphragm. This has an anxiolytic effect and sends a calming message to the brain “, he explains.
How to support a person who suffers from anxiety?
The first thing to do is not to reinforce your anxiety, nor to participate in it, advises the psychiatrist. It is better to reassure her, to say that everything will be fine, that there is no danger, but without making her feel guilty.
Avoid comments like “it’s in your head”, “it’s cinema”, “it’s so that we are interested in you”, “you see that there is nothing”. .. They do not help, on the contrary: “the person feels misunderstood, guilty, tensions are created and the symptoms are increased tenfold”.
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