When we are facing a dangerous or life threatening situation, our bodies are naturally built to enter a state of alertness. Our heart-rate increases, we start to shake, and we feel nervous or scared. In other words, we experience fear. This reaction is not only natural, but also helpful. For instance, if we suddenly see a car quickly speeding towards us while we are crossing the street, we immediately start to run because we fear that it will hit us. In this case, fear saves our life.
However, if you are experiencing extreme, irrational fear, and/or intense worry that affects your everyday life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. To give a few examples, you may experience intense worry that you find hard to control, feel restless or on edge, become easily tired, find it difficult to concentrate, become easily irritated, suffer from tense muscles (for instance, low back pain, headaches or stomach aches), and/or have problems with sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night). These would all indicate that your anxiety levels are higher than normal.
You may have an anxiety disorder if you have experienced a period of:
- Intense anxiety
- Feeling that something bad is about to happen
And these were accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Heart is racing
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain
- Feeling as if you are choking
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling lightheaded
- Having chills or Having hot flashes
- Feeling as if you’re being outside your body
- Feeling as if the world is not real
- Afraid of losing control
- Afraid you are going to die
Some people may also experience panic attacks. Panic attack symptoms usually appear suddenly and very quickly and reach their highest intensity within ten minutes. While experiencing a panic attack once or twice in our life can be quite common, you may be suffering from Panic Disorder if:
- You have repeatedly experienced panic attacks that were not triggered by a specific situation
- For at least one month, you are worried that you may experience another panic attack, are worried about the consequences of a panic attack, or you have changed your behaviour because of the panic attacks (for example, avoiding going out because you are afraid of having a panic attack in public)
The symptoms of a panic attack are the result of the body going into a state of alertness which invokes a ‘fight or flight’ response. Experiencing a panic attack without an understanding of why your body has gone into a state of alertness can be extremely scary.
Both genetics and social environment are associated with anxiety disorders.
A lot of people who develop an anxiety disorder have experienced an extremely stressful life event. Being in an abusive relationship is an example of such an event. Not only do people in an abusive relationship go through traumatic events such as physical and/or emotional abuse, but also they can live in constant fear that their abuser will hurt them or their loved ones at any time.
Constantly being on edge, waiting for the next abusive incident to take place, and feeling as if you need to walk on eggshells in order to not upset your abusive partner can contribute to developing an anxiety disorder
Thinking that you don’t have control over your environment, can also increase your chances of developing an anxiety disorder. Abusive relationships are all about the control that the abuser has over the other individual. Having your abusive partner control you in any way can make you feel as though you have no control over your own life and that can lead you to become stressed. No one deserves to have others dictate them how to live their lives or endure constantly threatening situations.
Severe anxiety can heighten people’s tendency to interpret situations negatively. For example, a person suffering from panic disorder can be more likely to notice and pay attention to the initial symptoms of a panic attack (such as shortness of breath and increased heart rate), and wrongly interpret them as a heart attack. Some people may even begin to avoid engaging in any situations that make their heart race (for example, exercise) because as soon as they feel their heart rate increase, they are scared of an oncoming heart attack. This thought pattern can lead to people believing that the only reason why they haven’t actually had a heart attack is the fact that they avoid engaging in situations that increase their heart rate. This can create a cycle of fear, stress, and avoidance.
It has even been suggested that some people suffer from anxiety because it distracts them from even more intense negative emotions. For those in abusive relationships, it may therefore be that the intense feeling of worry may feel less damaging than the reality people in abusive relationships are facing on a daily basis.
The first step to dealing with anxiety symptoms is to learn what these symptoms are so that you can recognise them any time you experience them. This is crucial so that you can break the cycle of misinterpreting anxiety symptoms and their consequences. Instead of misinterpreting anxiety symptoms as a sign that something disastrous is about to happen, you should reassure yourself that it is simply your body’s way of telling you that it has gone into a state of alertness, and that the symptoms will go away once you calm down.
To address the misconception that avoiding certain tasks prevents a certain disaster, which you’re worried about, from happening, it can be helpful to start engaging in the exact activities and behaviours you have been avoiding. You may also find it useful to view our information on different treatment options.