Anxiety is a normal emotion which we all feel at one time or another in response to a stressful situation. Situations which can cause anxiety feelings include starting at a new school, when you’re about to make a speech or just before a test. It is normal to have moments where we feel fearful, worried or nervous about something.
How do you know you are experiencing anxiety? You may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Feeling scared that something is going to happen
- Heart beating fast
- Your chest feeling tight or painful
- Sweating or feeling clammy
- Feeling dizzy or confused
- Feeling like you can’t breathe properly
- Suddenly feeling hot or feeling cold
- Feeling scared that you will lose control of yourself
While these symptoms usually come and go depending on the situation, it can become a problem if they get worse or start to interfere with the way you live your life. If they stop you from going to school, going to work, going to the shops or from seeing other people then you need to see someone who can help you to deal with your anxiety before it gets worse.
When anxiety gets worse it can become an anxiety disorder – and there are many of these which affect different things in a person’s life. Panic attacks happen when strong feelings of anxiety build up and feel like they are getting out of control. Some people are anxious of leaving their homes because they feel that something will happen to them (agoraphobia), while some people are afraid of being in social situations where they could be judged by others (social anxiety). Some people are scared of specific things (e.g. spiders) or activities (e.g. heights) while others experience irrational thoughts which make them engage in repetitive behaviour cycles (obsessive compulsive disorder).
In any of these instances, the person experiencing the anxiety will need to be taken to see a social worker, a clinic nurse, a doctor or a therapist who can assist them to figure out what is wrong and what the best treatment would be. Sometimes people need medication to manage the physical anxiety symptoms (to relax their bodies), while counselling can help the person develop coping mechanisms so that the anxiety is more manageable. This includes identifying the triggers (e.g. a specific situation), managing your thoughts (e.g. reasoning with yourself) and learning how to relax (e.g. breathing/relaxation exercises). If you struggle with anxiety or know someone who is struggling with anxiety, you can contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) for help: 0800 456 789