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Anxiety is a feeling very similar to fear, but it occurs in the absence of a precise trigger or an imminent danger. Anxiety can be described as a mental state of worry and unease associated with the anticipation of a stressful event or a negative outcome, which can be experienced even if the event or the situation is not likely to happen in the near future.

Fear is a feeling that typically occurs when one expects an imminent stressful event or danger, so it is associated with a definite object or situation. Anxiety and fear are normal bodily responses to stress, and they result in the activation of the fight or flight response as a defensive mechanism that allows the mind and the body to mobilize their resources to solve the problem, eliminate the threat or adapt to the stressful situation.

However, in anxiety disorders, anxiety and fear are triggered at inappropriate times, are more persistent or intense than the normal response to stress and are disproportionate in relation to the trigger. Anxiety disorders may be caused by excessively sensitized neural circuits that facilitate the propagation of the flight or fight response at times when this response is inadequate and unnecessary. This is often a result of previous challenging life experiences, causing the mind to anticipate danger.

What does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by persistent and intense worries or fear as if there is an imminent danger.

The psychological symptoms can be accompanied by certain physical symptoms, such as palpitations, excessive sweating, chest pains, tremor and urinary frequency.

Although anxiety or fear are the main symptoms experienced by individuals affected by an anxiety disorder, they can also suffer from insomnia, depression or diminished mental focus, which are usually a consequence of persistent anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

* Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder associated with open or crowded spaces, which are falsely perceived as dangerous and may trigger panic attacks.

* Generalized anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder manifested through persistent, chronic anxiety associated with physical symptoms, which occurs in the absence of an identifiable trigger.

* Panic attacks are short episodes of extreme anxiety that occur in situations that are perceived as dangerous or associated with significant negative outcomes, which are typically avoided by the individual suffering from panic disorder.

*Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is a persistent fear and anxiety that occurs in anticipation of uncomfortable social situations, and it is usually associated with a diminished self confidence and self esteem.

*Specific phobias, such as an extreme fear of spiders, heights, aircrafts, etc.

When to seek professional help?

It is normal to experience symptoms of anxiety when faced with challenging situations such as exams, moving house or changing jobs.

However, if the symptoms are frequent, intensive or disproportionate to life stressors then professional treatment should be sought. This is particularly true if it affects the day to day functioning and quality of life.

What treatments are available?

If diagnosed early, anxiety disorders can be successfully treated. Although some anxiety disorders can become chronic and may relapse later in life due to stressful events or insufficient treatment, a complete remission can be accomplished in many cases. Early diagnosis is very important because the individual has the potential to recover quickly by mobilizing his or her mental resources during therapy sessions. Medication is not always needed, especially if the symptoms are mild and considerable improvement is often possible with therapy.

* CBT and EDMR are the most efficient forms of therapy that can be implemented to treat anxiety disorders. They allow for a gradual desensitization and remission of anxiety symptoms by mobilizing the individual's mental resources. An early diagnosis, family support and a long-term commitment to treatment greatly increase the efficiency of therapy and can prevent the recurrence of symptoms in the future.

* Antidepressants and anxiolytics are prescribed to diminish the intensity of symptoms. In some cases, medication may be recommended to reduce the severity of anxiety and facilitate the initiation of therapy sessions. Although medication can provide considerable anxiety relief, it is more efficient when combined with therapy.