One in 20 people suffers from severe anxiety or neurosis, feeling agitated and worried about what are often trivial day-to-day issues, to a degree that interferes with their life.
They may constantly feel butterflies in their stomach, palpitations, sickness or headaches. Sleep problems are also common and there may be endless health worries.
The situation is often made worse by stress (such as work), noise (even at home) and relationship problems. Difficult life events, even pleasant ones such as a wedding, can make the anxiety unbearable.
Tranquillisers used to be handed out for anxiety with hardly a thought, but these days they’re only used in short courses to help people through particularly difficult times.
Instead, therapies that help a person to understand their anxiety and learn how to deal with stress are used, such as counselling, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and hypnotherapy.
For a more in-depth look at anxiety disorders, go to the Mental health site.
Many people who suffer from anxiety also have panic attacks, or panic disorder. Panic attacks can also happen out of the blue to someone who was not aware they were particularly anxious.
Panic attacks are a form of fear – in this case a fear of fear itself. Instead of an identifiable fear of an object that occurs every time they go near it, sufferers experience intense fear of the unknown. It’s a sort of internal and self-generated fear. Symptoms can include:
- sudden unexpected feelings of fear or intense anxiety
- feeling faint or nauseous
- palpitations or a racing heartbeat
- profuse sweating
- tingling in fingers
- blurry vision
- ringing in ears
Symptoms are often so severe, sudden and unexpected that people think they’re having a heart attack or are dying. Panic attacks can be frightening and debilitating, especially if they happen frequently, and many people with panic disorder develop depression too.
There are various treatments for panic disorder, from medication to working with a psychotherapist to gain more control over anxieties. Research shows that both kinds of treatment can be effective; a combination of the two may even be better than either on its own.
The earlier you get treatment the more likely it is that you’ll be able to put panic behind you and get back to normal.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.