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In Therapy: Working through anxiety (part 2)

In Therapy- Working Through...


Welcome to part 2 of In Therapy: Working through anxiety. In this post I would like to talk about the risk factors, causes and consequences of anxiety. At the end I will leave you with some tips that might be helpful in those moments where we are overcome by anxiety.


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Some causes of anxiety might be more obvious than others. Some might be psychological – caused by a traumatic event, such as a particularly stressful life event like a relationship breakdown. Others might be more unconscious in nature, which we will explore when we discuss psychodynamic therapies for anxiety. Other causes might be medical or genetic. Let’s briefly explore these further.

Neurological factors

I will briefly talk about each one of these. Due to space constraints and the technical language used, I have chosen to summarise the main points for this section.  More in-depth information can be found by following this link.

Neurological factors include anatomical, hormonal and genetic factors.

Anatomical factors relate to the limbic system, which might be affected – by structural and hormonal issues. The Hippocampus is part of the stress-response system and if this area is not working well, then anxiety symptoms might occur.

Hormonal or pharmacological factors that might lead to anxiety related disorders includes an abnormal function of GABA receptors, low serotonin levels, an abnormal activation of the fear circuits in the brain, as well as abnormal norepinephrine and dopamine levels and function.

Genes can affect the person’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety. Specific genes have been linked to anxiety – usually affecting the HPA axis and monoaminergic signalling (follow the link above to find out what these do!) The interaction of genes and environment can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders.

Medical conditions

Anxiety might be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. Some of these conditions include:

  • heart disease

  • diabetes

  • thyroid problems

  • asthma and other respiratory disorders

  • drug – prescribed or recreational – or alcohol withdrawal

  • chronic pain

  • irritable bowel syndrome

  • some tumors

  • sometimes can also be caused as a side effect of a prescribed medication.

Psychological and social factors that might lead someone to experiencing anxiety include:

  • Trauma caused from childhood abuse or a traumatic event

  • Illness related stress

  • Unprocessed stress that adds up across time and to other issues

  • Personality might make some people more likely to develop anxiety

  • Other mental health disorders might appear with anxiety (depression, for example)

  • Drug and alcohol use might change the way the person behaves, thinks and acts


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  • Other mental health issues such as depression, obsessive compulsive behaviours
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia
  • Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraines, headaches, back pain
  • Social isolation, fear of going out or fear of particular situations
  • Difficulties at work or school – loosing focus, not attending class or missing work days
  • Difficulty in looking after yourself – emotional and physical health issues such as neglecting personal care and healthy eating habits
  • Irritability
  • Relationship problems with friends and family
  • Suicide

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– Getting help early from friends or professionals might be the best thing that you do for yourself! It will most likely prevent some of the consequences mentioned above from becoming a reality, and you will be better off even if it’s difficult to ask for help to start with.

– find activities you enjoy and find rewarding – this will affect your hormones and brain in a positive way, and keep you healthy and less anxious.

– keep yourself surrounded by people that are supportive, positive. A good support network means you don’t feel alone. You have people you trust and that will listen and support you through difficult times.

– Take time-out. If you are at school, at work, or at a social gathering and feel anxiety lurking, take yourself to the toilet, or outside for fresh air. Take ten minutes or however long you need, to calm down using the methods we learned in last week’s post – breathing slowly, counting to 10 slowly, talking to yourself in a positive manner and knowing that the feeling will go away in a few minutes.


Note: some of the information used for this post has been taken from the Mayo clinic and the NCBI website – reference links are found throughout the post.


Until next week…


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