Anxiety disorder

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety and fear are the normal “fight and flight” responses we have when confronted with any situation that warrants alertness and strength. All of us have and do experience it at one time or another. We can feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem at work or at home, before taking a test, or making a significantly important decision.

However the emotions we have when suffering with an anxiety disorder are different, because they may be prolonged and cause such distress that it can interfere with a person’s ability to deal with situations or even to lead a normal life.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several recognised anxiety disorders, including:

Panic disorder: people suffering from this condition have feelings of terror, sometimes known as panic attacks, which may strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack can include sweating, palpitations (irregular heartbeat), chest pain and a feeling of choking, sometimes making a person feel like they are having a heart attack or losing control.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): people with OCD are overcome by continual thoughts or fears that in turn cause them to perform particular rituals or routines. These disturbing thoughts are known as obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Social anxiety disorder: also known as social phobia; social anxiety disorder involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centres on a fear of being judged by others, or being seen to behave in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule. As a result, the person tries to avoid social interactions which can inhibit positive and appropriate engagement in relationships.

Generalised anxiety disorder: this disorder involves excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even where there may be little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.

Specific phobias: a specific phobia is an intense fear of a specific object, creature or situation (for example snakes, heights, or flying). The level of fear is often inappropriate to the situation with the potential to cause an individual to avoid common, everyday situations.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): this anxiety disorder is caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events including military combat, serious road accidents, natural disasters, violent personal assaults and life threatening diseases.

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are real and should not be regarded as the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing. The exact causes of these disorders are not yet fully understood. However, research suggests that many of these disorders are caused by a combination of stressors which need to be understood and which can be managed within therapy. Stressors might be major life changes such as traumas, prolonged exhaustion, relationship difficulties, lack of achievement, physical problems etc.

Symptoms vary depending on the nature of the anxiety disorder, but general symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Nightmares
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • An inability to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea or gastric tension
  • Muscle tension

Symptoms of a panic attack, which can last up to 10 minutes, may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pounding heart or chest pain
  • Intense feeling of terror
  • Sensation of choking
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomach ache
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • A fear that you are losing control or are about to die

Who might be affected by an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are not uncommon. For example, generalised anxiety disorder affects approximately 1 in 20 adults in Britain. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is most common in people in their 20’s.

Studies have indicated that some people are more susceptible to anxiety disorders than others. Contributing factors are thought to include: prolonged stress, heredity factors, traumas and other significant difficult life events, such that severe or long-lasting stress may have an effect on the balance of chemicals in the brain which control mood.

What might happen if an anxiety disorder is left untreated?

If left untreated, an anxiety disorder can become a serious problem. Anxiety disorders will cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue or body aches and pains. These symptoms can, in turn, cause people to take time off work, visit the doctor more often or seek emergency medical treatment. It is normal for people to feel anxiety at some points in their life; usually it can easily be overcome. However, there are also people who are unable to cope with their anxiety; they tend to avoid it by shutting themselves in their homes and avoiding social gatherings. People with an anxiety disorder, especially when not properly treated, have a higher risk of suicide or self-harm behaviours.


Treatment is available for anxiety disorders and is very effective in reducing symptoms. Most people receiving proper treatment are able to live normal lives. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, please talk to your GP.

One of the psychological treatments for anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Research has shown that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. For example, it is estimated that about half of those who have CBT recover from generalised anxiety disorder, while many others get some benefit.

How does the Insight Network help treat anxiety disorders?

Depending on the severity of symptoms, we may offer an assessment with one of our medical staff to discuss the possibility of medication. This should help control symptoms until the benefits from attending therapy sessions are felt.

The recommended psychological treatments for anxiety disorders according to NICE guidelines are CBT and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). Initially, an appointment is made with a therapist who has specifically trained in these treatments to discuss the client’s personal situation including possible causes and the impact the condition has on their everyday life. On the basis of this assessment, the therapist will then discuss and agree a recommended personalised treatment plan the client is to receive.

The treatment plan will include the estimated number of sessions and the type of therapy. All our clients will be seen for one-to-one therapy sessions. In addition, clients might also be offered psychological skills groups which can aid recovery.

Insight Network Group Therapy

A lot may be learned about managing anxiety from mixing with other people who have also experienced it. Our therapy groups, facilitated by trained therapists, bring together people with similar concerns, so they may share experiences and offer encouragement to each other to try out new ways of managing their worries.

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