Anxiety disorders: Symptoms, types and treatments

March 3, 2022
9 minute read

Many more of us are struggling with anxiety disorders than ever before since the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have all been through the hardship that came with the restrictions and the collective challenges on a scale that many of us have never witnessed in our lifetimes. The pandemic has disrupted the fabric of everyday life and continues to present significant mental health challenges for millions of people all over the world.

A study in 2020, performed by researchers at King’s College London, interviewed over 3000 participants in the first six weeks of social restriction measures in the UK. The researchers reported that roughly 67% of participants experienced symptoms of depression, while 57% reported symptoms of anxiety brought on by COVID-19 and social restrictions.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is defined as a natural human response to perceived threats, and is most often characterised by excessive worry, stress and fear. To a certain extent, experiencing anxiety while going through stressful life events or major changes is normal. In time like these, it’s important to take proactive steps towards anticipating mental health issues and manage your mental wellbeing.    

For some, however, anxiety can become a serious mental health condition. This most often occurs when anxiety begins to impact our ability to live our daily lives.  

How does anxiety feel? Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety disorders are serious, often debilitating long-term conditions that have a wide range of negative impacts on our mind and body and influence our behaviour. Across the population, anxiety symptoms often vary between individuals.  

What’s more, there are several types of anxiety disorders, depending on cause and individual symptomatic profiles.  For example, generalised anxiety symptoms are different from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Anxiety has a wide range of effects on our mental state. Some of the mental symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worrying and rumination (overthinking bad situations and past experiences)
  • Nervousness, mental restlessness and feeling tense  
  • Experiencing a sense of doom, dread, and fearing the worst outcomes  
  • Feeling disconnected from your own mind and body (depersonalisation)
  • Feeling disconnected from the external world, or feeling as though the external world is not real (derealisation)  

Anxiety also affects our bodies in many different ways. Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy  
  • Experiencing increased or irregular heart rate
  • Excessive sweating and hot flushes  
  • Headaches  
  • Insomnia  
  • Nausea  
  • Teeth grinding  

Anxiety symptoms lead many sufferers to change their behaviour over time. You might find it hard to enjoy your free time or feel unwilling to try new things, or you might experience problems focusing, and struggle to form new relationships and maintain existing ones. Anxiety sufferers often avoid situations that could cause them more anxiety.  

You can find more information about anxiety symptoms on the Anxiety UK Website.  

What are the different types of anxiety disorders?

Depending on the symptom profile, anxiety can be categorised into different types of disorders.  

Some of the most common anxiety disorders include:

  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD): also known as social phobia, this disorder is most commonly characterised by a long-term, persistent fear of social situations. Sufferers may struggle with fears of being criticised, embarrassed, and can have difficulties in normal day-to-day situations
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): this disorder is broader and consists of experiencing anxiety symptoms related to daily life and worrying about most aspects of their life  
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – this anxiety disorder is characterised by obsessive, repetitive thoughts that can lead to compulsive behaviours in an attempt relieve them  
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – this disorder generally develops after a traumatic situation, and can feature intense anxiety and flashbacks or nightmares  

Other anxiety disorders include phobias, health anxiety, body dysmorphia, and perinatal anxiety, or perinatal OCD.  

Anxiety Treatments

There are a number of anxiety treatment options, ranging from lifestyle changes and self-help, to talk therapy and anxiety medication.  

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, you should talk to your GP, who will be able to properly assess your symptoms, place an accurate diagnosis and recommended anxiety treatment.  

Your GP will most likely recommend talking treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CGT) to begin with, but you can also receive medication to help manage your symptoms.  

Anxiety Medication

Antidepressants are often prescribed for anxiety disorders, with the most common ones being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline and fluoxetine. While they can be a useful tool to help manage your symptoms, antidepressants often produce unpleasant side effects, and could even worsen your anxiety in some situations.  

Beta blockers such as propranolol and atenolol can also be prescribed by GPs for situational anxiety, or to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety. However, this class of drugs does not act on the central nervous system, and as such they are unable to help with the psychological symptoms of anxiety.  

Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and clonazepam can also be prescribed by your GP in cases of severe anxiety. These drugs may also come with unpleasant side effects, can become addictive and cause withdrawal side effects after discontinuation. Your GP will likely only prescribe a benzodiazepine at a low dose, and for a short span of time.  

Other drugs prescribed for anxiety include pregabalin, which is an antiepileptic drug that is often prescribed for disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, or in cases where an SSRI is not suitable for you.

Coping with COVID-19 related anxiety

COVID-19 has undoubtedly taken a toll on most of us. If you are struggling to manage the emotional burden of COVID-19, there are things that you can do to manage your wellbeing during this time.  

Lifestyle changes and healthy habits can be implemented to help with anxiety and will be complimentary to the treatment recommended by your doctor. Exercise and physical activity are proven to help improve mood and help you relax and ease your anxiety.  

Prioritising sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene can also positively impact your mood and anxiety, as can a healthy, balanced diet.  

For a more comprehensive guide on managing your mental health and anxiety during COVID-19, read our blog on the topic.  

The NHS offers great online resources on calming breathing exercises, as we all recommendations for relaxation and mindfulness apps and online community apps.  

Our pharmacy team is always available for help and advice. Please get in touch with us today if you would like to speak with one of our pharmacists.

Content last reviewed on:
March 3, 2022
Next review date:
March 3, 2024
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