The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a rise in feelings of anxiety amongst many individuals around the globe. The uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, how long it is going to last or how challenging things might get has led to overwhelming feelings of fear, dread and panic amongst populations and symptoms of anxiety. Despite reports of increases in anxiety over the last 12 months, it is important to recognise that anxiety is in fact a natural part of the human experience (Batterham et. al, 2021). Anxiety is one of our internal warning systems to alert us to potential dangers or threats and activate the fight or flight response to protect us from perceived harm. However, a manageable amount of anxiety can be adaptive and helpful to your everyday life. For example, it can motivate you to finish a work project, or perform at a higher level during a sporting event. Even seemingly positive events such as attending a birthday party or moving house can be met with feelings of anxiety. This is all part of being human. So if it is normal to feel this way sometimes, what is an anxiety disorder?
How the medical community describes symptoms of anxiety
In everyday life symptoms of anxiety may be felt in response to specific situations or events. The feelings are proportional to the situation, the response is realistic and only lasts as long as the situation. However, you may feel that anxiety starts to become a problem, when the level you experience is no longer adaptive or helpful to your performance and becomes a barrier to your enjoyment of life.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition and the World Health Organisation International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision anxiety is a combination of physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM5) defines an anxiety disorder not only through signs and symptoms but also a set of strict criteria. This includes excessive anxiety and worry which occurs for more days than not for at least six months, about several events and activities, is difficult to control and which causes significant distress or impairment in functioning. It is not caused by a substance e.g. a drug of abuse or medication, or another medical condition or mental disorder. The anxiety and worry also must be associated with three or more of the following six symptoms; restlessness or feeling on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulting concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension or sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep) (Bystritsky et. al, 2013).
● Increased heart rate
● Dry mouth
● Chest pain
● Muscle tension
● Racing thoughts
● Uncontrollable over-thinking
● Difficulties concentrating or feeling as if the mind goes blank
● Feelings of dread, panic or ‘impending doom’
● Feeling irritable (which may or may not be observable to others)
● Feeling more alert
● Sleep disturbances (falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
● Feeling tense, wound up or edgy
● Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious, such as school, work or social events
● Feeling restless or agitated
● Social withdrawal and isolation
● Wanting to escape from the situation you are in
Despite this extensive list of signs and symptoms, it is not exhaustive, nor should it be used as a diagnosis. Symptoms of anxiety can manifest in individuals in various ways and no one person will experience it in the same way. Many people report some of these symptoms from time to time. So how do you tell the difference between occasional symptoms of anxiety and what the medical community defines as an anxiety disorder? Based on what some guides say, the difference is in the significance of the symptoms of anxiety and occurs more days than not for at least six months (Lock et. al, 2015). However that can be a very difficult thing to determine, which is why people often seek help.Adding to the confusion is the false idea that something is innately wrong about the person’s brain, which can lead to more symptoms and become a barrier to getting help.
Overcoming symptoms of anxiety using Neurocognitive Training
One way to help prevent making things worse and make getting help easier is to remember that people can improve by gaining skills. From a medical perspective the goal is to bring the person’s physical health back to normal. The problem with that idea is that every person is different and normal for one person might not be normal for another. Further, anxiety is not the same sort of idea as say diabetes, where you can get a blood test to find out.
From a neuroscience view anxiety is a brain state, which is changing all the time. When brains get into a state of anxiety certain biochemical changes are taking place that can feel like being ill. In many ways it looks like the person has a malfunctioning nervous system. Neuroscience considers more than just the physical state of the brain but also the information the brain is processing. We now understand that information processing can trigger and sustain the symptoms associated with what medicine sees as anxiety. The good news here is that changing the information processing is something people can do with neurocognitive training, applying powerful cognitive methods from clinical cognitive and behavioural science that reportedly work 83% of the time on average.
If you feel that symptoms associated with anxiety are impacting your life and you would like to learn about neurocognitive training, the team at Neurocog can help. We can help you reduce anxiety symptoms with skills to improve the information issues at their core. To find out more about how we may be able to help contact us at 02 82249670 or go to our website www.neurocogsystem.com to find out more.
Batterham, P. J., Calear, A. L., McCallum, S. M., Morse, A. R., Banfield, M., Farrer, L. M., … & Dawel, A. (2021). Trajectories of depression and anxiety symptoms during the COVID‐19 pandemic in a representative Australian adult cohort. Medical Journal of Australia, 214(10), 462-468.
Bystritsky, A., Khalsa, S. S., Cameron, M. E., & Schiffman, J. (2013). Current diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 38(1), 30–57.
Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015 May 1;91(9):617-24.