A heart palpitating? Do you feel dizzy? Are You Sweating?

Everybody has anxiety from time to time, whether it’s before a big test or exam, a job interview, or a public presentation. These are natural, fleeting bodily reactions to the events of life.

But when these sensations of anxiety—dread, worry, and uneasiness about ordinary events—become severe, frequent, excessive, and persistent enough to start interfering with an individual’s capacity to go about their daily life, including their performance at work, in their studies, and in their relationships, then it’s no longer just a “normal” anxiety experience; rather, it could be an anxiety disorder.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 301 million individuals worldwide were predicted to have an anxiety disorder in 2019, making anxiety disorders the most prevalent mental illness overall. Approximately 4% of the world’s population suffers from one form of anxiety disorder.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety disorder is a mental disorder that usually presents by recurrent periods of great fear, or terror that can peak in a matter of minutes for some people. For others, the anxiety persists and may even worsen over time.

Excessive fear and worry over what is perceived as a ‘potential future’ threat or an unrealized future occurrence is the hallmark of anxiety disorders.  Symptoms can be so severe that they cause a person to experience significant distress or impairment in critical aspects of their functioning, such as their personal, family, social, educational, or occupational lives. (Global Health Diagnostic Classification, Version 6.0).

Fear and anxiety are closely associated behaviors. Anxiety is more future-focused, referring to perceived expected harm, whereas fear is a response to perceived immediate threat in the here and now.

There are various sorts of anxiety disorders, and although they are all dominated by anxiety symptoms, each has its own distinct collection of traits, signs, diagnostic standards, and circumstances or stimuli that set it off.

They consist of separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), and other anxiety disorders not listed here.


Why Do Anxiety Disorders Occur?

As is often the case with other mental health conditions, the precise cause of anxiety disorders is unknown; however, research has shown that a complex interplay of biological factors, including genetics, brain and hormone changes, psychological factors, such as abuse and trauma, and social factors, such as one’s surroundings and stressful situations, is responsible.

Anxiety disorders can affect anyone, although they are more common in those who have experienced abuse, significant losses, or other traumatic events.

Anxiety disorders and physical health are related in both directions because they can lead to physical tension, immune system, nervous system, and endocrine system hyperactivity, all of which are risk factors for metabolic diseases like diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.

As a result of the challenges and stress involved in managing their ailments, individuals with certain diseases may also develop anxiety disorders.

The following are some of the factors linked to anxiety disorders:


  • Brain chemistry: Severe or prolonged stress can contribute to changes in the chemical balance in the brain. Such changes can play a part in the onset of anxiety disorders.
  • Family history: A person is more likely to acquire an anxiety-related ailment if they have close family members, particularly parents, who exhibit symptoms of anxiety disorders.
  • Genetics: An individual may be more susceptible to having an anxiety disorder if they have particular genes.
  • Medical conditions: Medical issues: Anxiety can be worsened by a number of underlying medical issues. Among these include respiratory disorders, diabetes, thyroid issues, heart illness, chronic pain, drug usage, and drug withdrawal.


  • Personality traits: Personality qualities: Individuals who possess traits like paranoia and timidity may be more likely to experience elevated levels of anxiety.



  • Unfavorable Life’s Experiences: Sexual and physical abuse during childhood and adolescence
  • Parental loss due to a separation, divorce or death
  • Parental rearing styles: Harsh parenting, uneasy and unstable attachments
  • Negative life events: That are threatening including unstable economies
  • Stressors related to the workplace


What Are Types of Anxiety Disorders?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

A person with generalized anxiety disorder exhibits noticeable symptoms of anxiety that last for several months, occurring on most days.

These symptoms include generalized apprehension, also known as “free-floating anxiety,” or excessive worry about a variety of everyday events, most often involving family, health, finances, school, or work.

Additional symptoms may include muscular tension or motor restlessness, sympathetic autonomic over-activity, a subjective feeling of nervousness, difficulty focusing, irritability, or disturbed sleep.


Panic disorder:

Recurrent, unexpected panic attacks that are not specific to any one event or environment are the hallmark of panic disorder.

Panic attacks are isolated episodes of extreme anxiety or fear that are followed by the sudden and simultaneous onset of a number of defining symptoms (e.g., sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness, chills, hot flushes, fear of impending death).

Furthermore, ongoing worry about the frequency or significance of panic episodes, as well as actions taken to prevent them, are characteristics of panic disorder.



Agoraphobia is defined by a strong, overwhelming fear or anxiety that arises in response to various circumstances where it may be difficult to escape or where assistance may not be available.

These situations include using public transportation, being in large groups, and being outside the home by yourself (e.g., in shops, theaters, standing in line). The reason the person is constantly nervous about these circumstances is because they are afraid of certain bad things happening to them (such as panic attacks or other embarrassing or physically crippling symptoms).

The circumstances are either purposefully avoided, only entered in certain situations—like with a trusted companion—or endured with great fear or worry.


 Specific phobia:

 A marked and excessive fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to actual danger and that persistently arises when exposed to one or more specific objects or situations (such as being near certain animals, flying, heights, closed spaces, seeing blood, or injury) is known as specific phobia.

Avoiding the phobic situations or objects, or enduring them with great fear or anxiety, is the option.


Separation anxiety disorder:

The hallmark of separation anxiety disorder is a noticeable and overwhelming fear or anxiety associated with being cut off from particular attachment figures.

When separation anxiety strikes an adult, it usually targets a romantic partner or children; in children, it usually targets caregivers, parents, or other family members.

Severe anxiety can manifest as thoughts of the attachment figure getting hurt or experiencing unfortunate events, aversion to going to work or school, persistently high levels of distress upon separation, unwillingness to sleep away from the attachment figure, and recurring nightmares about being apart.


Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders?

Numerous symptoms can accompany anxiety disorders, and no two people experience them in exactly the same way and the symptoms of each condition typically vary.

Generally speaking, anxiety disorders present with the following symptoms:


  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Rapid, fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tightness
  • Nausea or stomach upset
  • Feeling a knot in the stomach
  • Loose bowels
  • Sweaty or cold hands and/or feet
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Headaches, backaches and other aches and pains
  • Sleeping problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of hair and other skin problems
  • Recurrent infections
  • Fluctuations in blood pressure
  • Changes in blood sugar



  • A sense of intense, impending danger or doom
  • Feeling tense and nervous
  • Difficulty in stopping to worry or worrying about when the panic attacks will happen
  • Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
  • Fear of losing touch with reality or death
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Requiring lots of reassurance from other people
  • A feeling of disconnection from one’s mind or body like watching a character in a movie
  • Feeling disconnected from the world around like it isn’t real



  • Unable to be calm or hold still
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Avoidance of the stimulus
  • Easily startled
  • Ritualistic behaviors
  • Alcohol and substance abuse


 Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated using a number of methods, which include:

  1. Psychological interventions:

For the treatment of anxiety disorders, this is crucial.

This is primarily talking therapy conducted by licensed therapists and mental health specialists. These therapies can teach individuals new ways of thinking about, managing, or reacting to their anxiety, other people, and the outside environment.

They can instruct people on how to deal with the circumstances, occasions, persons, or locations that make them anxious.

The psychological interventions grounded in exposure-based therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teach individuals to confront their fears, have the strongest evidence for treating a variety of anxiety disorders.

Additionally, developing stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness and relaxation can lessen the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

  1. Antidepressant medications:

Antidepressant such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be useful in treating adults with anxiety disorders.

  1. Self-care:

Self-care is a crucial component of supportive treatment as well. You can take the following actions to assist control your anxiety symptoms and improve your general wellbeing:

  • You can avoid or use less alcohol and don’t use illegal drugs, which can exacerbate anxiety
  • Exercise on a regular basis, even if it’s just a quick walk
  • Maintain regular sleeping and eating schedules as much as you can
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Acquire relaxation skills like progressive muscle relaxation and slow breathing
  • Make mindfulness meditation a habit, even if it’s just for a short while each day.


If you feel that you are worrying too much, that your worry is difficult to control and is interfering with your work, relationships, or other aspects of your life; or if you feel depressed, struggle with alcohol or drugs, or have other mental or physical health issues that go hand in hand with anxiety; or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, Seek immediate emergency care.

Consult a mental health professional or your physician before your anxiety worsens.

Seeking treatment early makes it easier.


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At HFH, we genuinely care for our patients and we strive to leave them better than we met them.

Meet our director

Dr. Charlotte Nwigwe is an MBBS degree holder from the University of Benin and a fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College in Psychiatry.

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