Anxiety is a natural feeling of fear, panic or unease.
When we face stressful situations, the body goes into defence mode. The brain’s in-built alarm bell system tells us something isn’t right and that we need to deal with it.
Our brain wants the difficult situation to go away, so it makes us feel more alert. The brain releases chemicals and sends signals to tissues and organs in the body which moves the body into ‘flight or flight’ mode.
For example, the brain instructs the adrenal glands to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, which raises your heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies, and cortisol, which allows the body to concentrate on the stressful situation at hand.
The defensive mechanism can induce physical symptoms, which depending on the person will be either mild or pronounced. They include:
- a racing heart beat
- sweating more than usual
- feeling nervous or on edge
- feeling overwhelmed or full of dread
- a dry mouth
- a temperature
- low appetite
- trouble sleeping
Most of us worry only occasionally, about things we deem to be important, such as an upcoming public presentation, medical test, job interview or exams.
Afterwards, once the event has passed, or our attention has diverted to something else, we usually calm down and feel better. This is called situational anxiety as it relates only to specific events.
Some people, even when not in a stressful situation, can still feel worried or panicky. This is when anxiety can become a problem. If your feelings of anxiety are extreme, not event specific, occur regularly or last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
There are several anxiety disorders;
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is a continuous state of worry. GAD is a long-term condition that can make you feel anxious about numerous issues and is unrelated to any specific event
- Panic attacks: Sudden, intense feelings of anxiety and fear
- Phobias: An irrational or extreme fear of something such as a place or an animal
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Unwanted thoughts and urges and repetitive behaviours
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Long-term psychological impacts caused by a frightening or distressing event
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder you should speak with your GP.
The general medical advice for helping to alleviate anxiety includes talking about the issue with clinical experts and friends, meditation, exercising more, drinking less alcohol and smoking less.
Man Behind The Mirror offers Propranolol, a medication that is effective in alleviating the physical symptoms of situational anxiety. Propranolol blocks the action of stress hormones like adrenaline on your body’s beta receptors which stops them from working, thereby alleviating the physical symptoms.
This means that when you’re in an environment that triggers these emotions, you won’t notice a faster heartbeat, sweaty hands or shaking. Instead, you’ll feel more relaxed and composed, making it easier for you to function normally.
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Written by Mike Firth, GP and Medical Director
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.