Fear is a natural reaction in which the body and psyche adjust to a potential danger. Strong feelings of anxiety can also be a burden in everyday life. In this case, one speaks of an anxiety disorder.
What is fear?
Everybody knows the feeling of fear. In threatening situations it appears: the pulse accelerates, the blood pressure rises, the hands sweat. One breathes faster and flatter, sometimes even starts to shiver, or one becomes sick with fear. In this situation, the psyche is in a state of extreme tension – ready to react with lightning speed to fight or flight.
Fear or anxiety disorder?
Fear is a body-own alarm system that has ensured survival for humans and animals over thousands of years. Even today, fear protects us from taking on too many risks and sometimes mobilizes unforeseen forces. However, people often feel irrational fears, which they tend to block: test anxiety, stage fright, and fear of spiders, for example, are widespread. Sometimes, however, anxiety increases to such an extent that it severely restricts the person affected in their everyday lives – a simple fear becomes an anxiety disorder requiring treatment. If fear is related to a particular object or situation, it is also called a phobia. A series of questionnaires and tests are used to help doctors determine if anxiety and panic attacks are pathological and in need of treatment.
Anxiety disorder: a common mental health problem
About fifteen percent of adults in Germany suffer from an anxiety disorder. This makes anxiety disorders one of the most prevalent mental health problems.
What forms of fear are there?
- Specific phobias: People with a specific phobia are more likely to be afraid of specific objects or situations, such as spiders (arachnophobia), confined spaces (claustrophobia), or doctor spraying (trypanophobia). This also includes social phobias in which the people concerned avoid different social situations because they are afraid of other people or their devaluation and rejection.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: In a generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety is not focused on specific triggers, but there is a continuing fear and anxiety about threatening events in the future, such as accidents and illnesses. If the anxiety symptoms are of a shorter duration (three instead of six months) associated with two (rather than at least three) different physical symptoms, and the affected person’s concerns are still controllable, then it is called a subsyndromal anxiety disorder rather than a generalized anxiety disorder.
- Panic Attacks: A special form of anxiety disorder is a panic disorder. Here sufferers suffer from sudden panic attacks that do not have to have a specific trigger. The fear of panic attacks often limits everyday life even further.
What therapies for anxiety and panic attacks?
For all three types of anxiety, different treatment guidelines apply. For specific phobias, behavioral therapy is usually recommended. In a generalized anxiety disorder, drugs from the group of SSRIs or SNRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are prescribed. In a subsyndromal anxiety disorder, herbal medicines can provide relief. In case of panic attacks, psychotherapy and support by sedative drugs are the drugs of choice.
Anxiety Disorder: When to the doctor?
Frequently, those affected seek medical help only very late, because they believe that they do not want to be taken seriously by the family doctor or shy away from having to undergo neuropathic treatment. In cases of internal restlessness, feelings of anxiety and the resulting sleep disturbances, it is advisable to try therapy with anxiety-relieving herbal medicines such as lavender oil. If the anxiety disorder restricts the affected person in his or her life, immediate medical help should be sought.