Understanding Anxiety – By Dr Sumbul Alladin, Psychologist

by pavan
Understanding Anxiety - By Dr Sumbul Alladin, Psychologist

Today’s generation is plagued with anxiety. In fact, a study revealed that more than 45 million people in India are affected by anxiety disorders. To help raise awareness around mental health and understand it a bit more, we spoke to licensed psychologist Dr Sumbul Alladin, who is also trained in mindfulness and solution-focused therapy.

Today’s generation is plagued with anxiety. In fact, a study revealed that more than 45 million people in India are affected by anxiety disorders. To help raise awareness around mental health and understand it a bit more, we spoke to licensed psychologist Dr Sumbul Alladin, who is also trained in mindfulness and solution-focused therapy.

What is anxiety?
Anxiety, stated simply, is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, nervousness or unease, worried thoughts, and even physical changes like increased blood pressure. Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life, and it is a normal human reaction when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. For a person with an anxiety disorder, however, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time, severely impairing a person’s ability to function at work, school, and in social situations.

Why has it suddenly increased in the last few years?
Numerous factors cause a person to develop anxiety disorders, panic attacks and phobias, but stress over time plays a key role. Each of us creates stress, but the society we live in impacts us deeply. While it can be argued that human beings always had to deal with stressful societal conditions like wars and famines, there are a few reasons for suggesting that the overall stress level is higher now than ever before.

Our social order has changed more than ever in the last twenty years. Digital technology has changed our lives drastically. The increased pace of modern society and the increased rate of technological change have deprived people of adequate time to adjust to these changes. To add to this, the rapidly increasing uncertainties with the ongoing pandemic and the economic ramifications are exacerbating the situation. In the Indian context, western values have slowly seeped in and changed the social fabric of the country. Be it careers, relationships, food or clothes, youngsters are charting their own paths, voicing their own opinions, which is often in conflict with established social norms and traditions. Social media too plays a part in adding to the issue with social comparisons about success, looks, wealth, travel etc. that is distorting a person’s sense of self-worth! 

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders, each with its own unique signs and symptoms. Here are some real examples of people (names anonymized) suffering from extreme anxiety:

Their experiences differ in two fundamental aspects from the “normal” anxiety people experience in response to everyday life. First, their anxiety is out of control/out of proportion to the situation. Second, there is powerlessness in the face of it that hinders their ability to function normally. People with such disorders usually can’t differentiate what it is which makes them excessively uneasy and apprehensive. I have clients who come and say, “my life is quite okay, but I have no clue why I am feeling this way.”  

Anxiety affects your whole being — on a physiological level, it may cause rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, or dry mouth. On a behavioural level, it might sabotage your ability to act, express yourself or deal with certain everyday situations. Psychologically, it’s a subjective state of apprehension and unease.  

Although anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives, they are treatable, and several effective treatments are available. Although each anxiety disorder has unique characteristics, most respond well to psychotherapy or “talk therapy”.

A therapist will be able to chalk out a complete program of recovery, which could include strategies for

  • Reducing physiological reactivity
  • Eliminating avoidance behaviour
  • Changing subjective interpretations which perpetuate a constant state of apprehension and worry

If needed, the therapist might refer a psychiatrist as well for medication. While medications will not cure anxiety disorders, they can provide significant relief from symptoms.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or are simply going through a stressful period, perhaps you can draw a little inspiration from this quote, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.”            

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