Panic, panic attack, anxiety – these are words we are using frivolously in everyday life. They are so familiar that many of my clients firmly believe they are suffering from panic attacks without this being true. Self-diagnosing through the Internet hides some risks. What it generally leads to is lower self-esteem and self-efficacy and depressive symptoms. So, before you diagnose yourself with anxiety, it would be a good idea to consult a specialist – either a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.

Natural vs. clinical anxiety

Anxiety is a type of fear – a basic human emotion we all feel. Clinical anxiety, on the other hand, is a condition of groundless worry. Whenever the boundary between reasonable and imagined threat begins to dissolve, that’s the right time for you to seek treatment.

Anxiety disorders

Generalized anxiety disorder

It sounds more complicated than it really is. We can call it simply anxiety. “Generalized” means it affects themes, events, or activities from all areas of life. It is characterized by constant excessive worry accompanied by physical symptoms. In daily life, it creates difficulties that can interfere with job performance, communication, intimate relationships. etc. Usually people seek help when they start to spend too much time thinking and worrying and to realize that this is preventing them from functioning properly.

Social anxiety disorder / Social phobia

In other words, this is the fear of communication. The annual corporate party, the project presentation or the wedding of a close friend, are equally difficult to tolerate, and are avoided altogether. Fear is based on the belief that one would do something to expose themselves and others would judge it. Usually those affected realize that they are exaggerating, yet their fear is so intense that it is often accompanied by physical symptoms and sometimes even panic attacks.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of public places. It is perhaps the most restrictive in terms of functional impairment, as people with agoraphobia have a difficult time leaving their homes. For them, supermarkets, malls, halls, stadiums, squares are all scary places that should be avoided at all costs. If they go to such a place, they feel trapped, with no way out. Such people go to psychotherapy usually when their loved ones notice that they haven’t left the house for days.

Specific phobia

Specific phobia is among the most easily recognized conditions. Fear of heights, of confined spaces, of flying, of spiders and more – over 200 types of specific phobias have been identified. People are usually well aware of what phobia they have. Nonetheless, they are sometimes wrong. Yes, it’s normal to be scared when we climb a steep and high mountain peak. It is abnormal though to start limiting ourselves due to unreasonable fear – when we refuse to attend important events we can only get to on time by plane, or when we avoid all winter holidays because the lifts are rather dangerous.

Panic disorder

Maybe just about everyone has panicked at least once in their lifetimes. Sometimes that happens more than once. This is not a sign of a psychological problem. People who are more prone to stress experience episodes of increased anxiety more often. But not all such episodes represent panic attacks. The confusion stems from the fact that panic has clearly manifested physical symptoms – high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, rapid and superficial breathing, sweating, flushing, dizziness and more. However, these symptoms alone also occur in a variety of other psychological and medical conditions. Therefore, when you sweat and experience palpitations immediately before an exam, this doesn’t mean you necessarily have a panic attack, not to mention panic disorder (which includes the fear of having a potential panic attack). Let your psychotherapist help you with that conclusion.

Anxiety disorders in childhood

In addition to these most common complaints, anxiety disorders also include those that occur in childhood – separation anxiety (fear of separation from parents and/or home) and selective mutism (child’s refusal to speak in certain situations). In those cases it is recommended to start family therapy, or at least consult a child psychologist.

Other forms of anxiety

Anxiety is among the major symptoms of two other categories of psychological disorders – obsessive-compulsive and traumatic-stress disorders, which I will look at separately. Until a few years ago, they were classified together, but because of their distinctive characteristics, they were separated in their own groups.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety

A number of international studies in recent decades have identified cognitive-behavioral therapy as the most effective treatment for anxiety. The biggest advantage of CBT is its effectiveness in preventing relapse. Compared to pharmacological treatment, which produces equally good results immediately after completion, CBT results in a lasting improvement in the quality of life established at intervals of six months, one year and five years after completion of therapy. That is why it is the preferred choice in treating anxiety.

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