Learn about mental disorders
About anxiety disorders
Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. Feeling a bit of anxiety is very normal. Anxiety protects us and can help us cope with a worrying or perhaps dangerous situation. Anxiety is felt as a fear whose cause is difficult to pinpoint. This feeling is accompanied by symptoms.
It is natural to feel a certain level of anxiety in some circumstances, for instance, when experiencing a life-changing event such as a wedding or a divorce. It is also normal to be anxious on the eve of an exam, when going through a job interview or during a sporting event. Anxiety is therefore linked to specific events and subsides when life resumes its normal course.
However, anxiety becomes a problem if:
- It does not stop when a worrying situation returns to normal
- It causes an important level of distress
- It has no connection to a life event, and occurs with no reason
- It completely consumes you
- It prevents you from functioning and behaving normally at work, in society or in other areas of daily life
Such anxiousness can thus be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
The main types of anxiety disorders
The most common types of anxiety disorders are the following:
Someone with anxiety disorder can experience various physical and psychological discomforts of varying degrees that accompany their feeling of anxiety.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Sleeping disorders
- Dizziness, vertigo or feeling that you are about to faint
- Diarrhea or abdominal discomfort
- Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
- Choking or strangling feeling
- Excessive sweating
- Hot flashes, or the opposite, chills
- High blood pressure
- Trembling or muscle twitching, sometimes affecting the whole body
- Tightening and chest pains
- Feeling of unreality and loss of control
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling of unease
- Fear of dying
When to consult
Do not wait to be unable to conduct your usual activities in order to consult. If you have symptoms, you can consult certain organisations and associations working with anxiety disorders. They offer information, help and support.
However, see your family doctor or another health professional if you experience one of the following situations:
- You are living in distress
- You have difficulty fulfilling your social, professional or family responsibilities
A health professional can assess whether you have anxiety disorder or another health problem with similar symptoms. To be properly assessed, it could be necessary to conduct a physical exam or to prescribe laboratory tests. You will be proposed a treatment plan that is adapted to your needs.
See the Help and resources section to find resources available to you.
If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety, or that of people around you, see the Preventing suicide page. You will find further information on help and resources available.
Anxiety disorders are illnesses that can be treated. There are known treatments available to treat this disorder. Treatments allow people with anxiety disorder to regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier a person consults with a professional, the better their chances of recovery.
In most cases, anxiety disorders are treated effectively with self-care, group psychological education, an intervention, psychotherapy, medication, or by a combination of some of these treatments.
Experts generally recommend cognitive behavioural therapy to treat anxiety disorders. This psychotherapy aims to change the individual’s thoughts, core beliefs and problematic behaviour, and replaces them with thoughts and responses appropriate to reality. It helps understand the origins of the problem and to find solutions.
Other therapies are also available and are recommended according to the type of anxiety disorder to be treated.
Different medication can be used to treat anxiety disorders, including antidepressants and anxiolytics.
Effects of antidepressants and anxiolytics
Antidepressants are medicines that fight depression. In the treatment of anxiety disorders, they help reduce symptoms of anxiety and re-establish the brain’s chemical balance. They rebalance:
Anxiolytics are medicines that help reduce symptoms of anxiety. They also help reduce stress and allow you to sleep better. Examples of anxiolytics include sleeping pills, as well as tranquilisers that reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
Recommendations for taking medication
If your doctor prescribes you medication, it is important to take them by carefully following instructions provided.
You must also be patient in order to see results. Re-establishing chemical balance can take from 4 to 8 weeks.
Even if you feel better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed in order to prevent your symptoms from reappearing.
If you have uncomfortable side-effects due to the medication, discuss the issue with your pharmacist or doctor promptly. If necessary, your medication can be adjusted or other medication may be recommended.
People with anxiety disorders know that their behaviour is irrational and that it affects their lives. Thus, they often end up feeling inadequate and depressed.
Certain symptoms associated with anxiety disorders can also lead to depression if they are not treated rapidly. Depression very frequently accompanies anxiety disorders.
People with anxiety disorders often try to control their anxiety by drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Hence, they may develop an excessive consumption or dependency problem.
Conflicts can also occur with close relations, who do not always understand the person’s behaviour. These conflicts impact the life of the individual and their family.
Protection and prevention
It is not always possible to prevent anxiety disorders. However, if you have symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, you can act now. Advice on maintaining good mental health will help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes will help you eliminate factors that worsen or maintain your condition.
Anxiety disorders do not have a single cause. A combination of several factors results in the onset of symptoms. The following are examples of these factors:
- The heredity
- A biological vulnerability
- Certain health problems, such as respiratory disease or hyperthyroidism (thyroid gland disease that results in the excessive production of hormones)
- Abuse or consumption of certain substances such as caffeine or alcohol, or stimulant drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines
- Withdrawal from caffeine, drugs or alcohol, in the case of someone in the weaning process
- The presence of stress factors in a person’s life. These factors may be related to their family, social or professional environment
- A person’s temperament, someone with a low self-esteem or who has difficulty adapting to different life situations, for instance
Help and resources
Information and support resources
Resources are available for help and to obtain further information about anxiety disorders:
- Revivre – Quebec Anxiety, Depressive and Bipolar Disorder Support Association
- Phobies-Zéro (Helpline: 1 866 922-0002) (website in French only)
- Tel-jeunes (Helpline for young people between 5 and 20 years old: 1 800 263-2266)
Resources for care and services
To receive care or services, or to find a professional with whom you are comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
Last update: October 25, 2019