Anxiety disorders

Description

Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another, which is very normal. It is a protective mechanism that can help us cope with a worrisome or perhaps potentially dangerous situation.

It is natural to feel anxiety in some circumstances, for instance, when experiencing life-changing events. It is also normal to be anxious the day before an exam, when going through a job interview or during a sporting event, for example. Anxiety is therefore linked to specific events and subsides when life resumes its normal course. Advice is available to learn how to manage stress and anxiety.

However, anxiety becomes a problem if it is excessive and if it persists, for example if:

  • It does not stop when a worrisome situation returns to normal
  • It causes an important level of distress
  • It has no connection to any specific life event, in other words, it occurs without any identifiable cause
  • It continually preoccupies the person
  • It has a significant impact on life at work, in society or in other areas of daily life

Such anxiety can then be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Just like adults, children and teenagers can experience anxiety and develop certain anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem among teenagers. They can persist into adulthood if not treated properly. To find out more about anxiety and anxiety disorders in children and teenagers, go to the page Stress and anxiety in your child or teenager.

The main types of anxiety disorders

The most common types of anxiety disorders are the following:

Signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder

Someone with anxiety disorder can experience various physical and psychological manifestations of varying intensities that accompany their feelings of anxiety.

Here are the most common signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness, vertigo or feeling that you are about to faint
  • Nausea
  • 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 until you are unable to carry out your usual activities to seek help. If you have signs or symptoms of an anxiety disorder, you can consult a resource in the field of mental health and anxiety disorders. You will find information, help and support there.

However, consult a doctor or another healthcare and social services professional if you experience one of the following situations:

  • The anxiety does not go away over time or increases
  • You are experiencing distress
  • You have difficulty fulfilling your social, professional or family responsibilities

The person you will meet can assess your needs and offer solutions to support you in the management of anxiety. To clarify the nature of your difficulties, they may suggest that you carry out a health exam or refer you to another professional for a more in-depth assessment. They will then discuss with you the different services or approaches that could meet your needs.

To find out how to access mental health care and services, go to the page Stepped mental health care and services.

General notice

Distress and suffering may be very severe for someone who has an anxiety disorder and for their family and friends. If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety, or that of people around you, consult the page Recognizing signs of distress and preventing suicide. You will find further information on help and resources available.

Care and services

There are treatments and services that are recognized as effective in supporting people with a anxiety disorder. In particular, they relieve the symptoms and help them regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier a person consults with a healthcare professional, the better their prospects for recovery.

In most cases, anxiety disorders are treated effectively with adapted care and services such as self-care, individual or group psychological education, a psychosocial intervention, psychotherapy, medication, or by a combination of some of these treatments. Self-help and support groups as well as learning applied relaxation may also be suggested. To find out more about these treatments, go to the Treatments section on the Stepped mental health care and services page.

Cognitive behavioural interventions

With respect to the treatment of anxiety disorders, experts generally recommend an intervention using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, in individual or group sessions, or psychotherapy. These interventions aim to change the individual’s thoughts and problematic behaviour, and replace them with thoughts and responses better adapted to reality. They help understand certain key factors at the origins of the problem and establish effective solution strategies.

Medication and medical follow-up

Different medication can be used to treat and manage the symptoms of anxiety disorders better.

If you choose, with your doctor, to start a medication, it is important to take your medication by carefully following the instructions provided.

You must be patient before seeing any results. It can sometimes take up to 4 to 8 weeks before medication has an effect on anxiety symptoms.

Even if you feel better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed to prevent your symptoms from reappearing. If you are thinking about stopping your treatment, discuss it with your doctor. He will tell you if it is the right time to stop and, if so, how to do so safely.

If you have undesirable side-effects due to the medication, discuss the issue with your pharmacist or doctor promptly. If necessary, your doctor could adjust your medication or recommend another one.

Associated issues

Living with an untreated anxiety disorder can have consequences for the person and their family and friends.

A link is often established between anxiety disorders and depressive disorders. Certain symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder may, in fact, lead to depression if they are not treated rapidly.

People with anxiety disorders may also try to control their anxiety by drinking alcohol or doing drugs and therefore develop a substance use disorder.

Treatments and services that are recognized as effective can treat these disorders simultaneously.

Consequences for family and friends

Anxiety disorders can affect not only the person's daily life, but also that of their loved ones who often do not understand the person's behaviour, do not know how to support them and sometimes feel very helpless.

To find information on how you can support the person better or to find support for yourself, go to the page Living with a person suffering from mental illness.

Resources exist to help family members or friends of someone who has an anxiety disorder. To find out more, go to the section Support for the family members and friends of people living with mental disorders of the page Mental health help and support resources by need.

Prejudice

People with anxiety disorders are sometimes victims of their own prejudices and those of society at large. These prejudices discourage people from seeking help or continuing their treatment. To find out more about prejudice, its consequences and how to fight it, go to the page Fighting the stigma surrounding mental disorders.

Mental health and prevention

It is not always possible to prevent anxiety disorders from developing. However, if you exhibit signs and symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, you can act now.

Advice on promoting good mental health can help you improve certain lifestyle habits. These changes can have a positive impact on your state of health, reducing or even eliminating certain risk factors associated with the presence of mental disorders.

Risk factors

It is often a combination of factors related to a person's vulnerability, temperament, behaviours and stress that leads to the onset of the signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Here are some of the factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders:

  • 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 and the process of weaning off one of these substances
  • 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

Some of these factors can maintain or exacerbate an anxiety disorder.

Help and resources

To find information and support resources or to obtain care or services for anxiety disorders, go to the page Finding mental health help and support resources.

Last update: October 25, 2019

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