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  • Janet Chang

What is Anxiety? Do I have an Anxiety Disorder?

Updated: Oct 8

Anxiety is a normal response to stress and threat. It is our body’s way of alerting us to danger, and preparing us to deal with the danger. Hence, it is normal to feel anxiety every now and then.


What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety becomes a problem when it is experienced intensely, frequently, and excessively, to the point that it affects one’s ability to function or perform their daily activities (e.g., work, school, relationships, life in general). When someone has an anxiety disorder, they may experience anxiety in the absence of any real danger/threat, continue to feel anxious even after the threatening situation has passed, or experience a level of anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation/trigger. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can greatly affect the individual’s ability to function in various aspects of their life (e.g., work, relationships).


Often times, people with anxiety do one of 2 things to cope with anxiety:

1. They avoid situations that trigger the anxiety

2. They spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about the object of anxiety- this is often circular in nature- they don’t reach a resolution, and hence often feels uncontrollable.


There are several different types of anxiety disorders- e.g., generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias. They differ in the object of anxiety, but are otherwise similar in terms of the physiological symptoms experienced and the ways people tend to cope.


Signs and Symptoms:

Some signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

- Physical sensations of anxiety that occur frequently and are distressing to the individual e.g., heart palpitations, breathlessness, shaking, feeling dizzy/faint

- Constant worrying and over-thinking that feels uncontrollable

- Feeling on edge

- Feeling a sense of dread/panic

- Difficulties sleeping

- Difficulties concentrating

- Avoiding certain situations to avoid feeling anxiety- e.g., avoiding leaving the house/public transport/going to crowded places/attending social functions


What can we do to Manage it

Anxiety disorders are treatable- people can recover from it and go back to leading normal, meaningful lives. Treatment for anxiety disorders may involve psychiatric medication and/or psychotherapy- research shows that a combination of both medication and therapy is most effective.


If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder to the point that it is causing you distress and/or affecting your day-to-day life, you should speak to your GP. Your GP may ask you some questions and suggest the next course of action- which may be medication, psychotherapy, or a referral to a psychiatrist who is more specialised and will be able to advise further on the need for medication and/or psychotherapy.


There is no quick fix for anxiety disorders, but with treatment, some people may recover within a few months, while others may take longer.


Click here to read more about what psychotherapy for anxiety involves.


If you are thinking of seeing a psychologist to begin psychotherapy for anxiety,

To learn about the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, click here.