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Understanding anxiety

by Salaamedia

By Wahab Patel

We often hear the term ‘anxiety’, and sadly many of us don’t understand what exactly this term entails. We could play the blame game and identify various reasons which are responsible for the lack of knowledge on this subject, from the education system to religious beliefs, and so forth. The point is that in today’s age, accessing information on any particular topic can be easily done, so let’s stop pointing the finger. It’s time to step up and educate ourselves.

When faced with a stressful situation, it is common and completely normal to feel scared, and more specifically, an overwhelming sense of uneasiness and worry. This is the body’s natural response to stress. Anxiety, on the other hand, comes about when this state of worry is constant, regardless of the situation. The common problem we have is that anxiety is often confused to be fear. The difference between fear and anxiety is that fear is an emotion we have in response to a very visible or perceived threat, whereas anxiety is the anticipation of a future, non-existent threat.

The symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person. It has, however, been deduced by researchers that the four common symptoms present in all anxiety disorders are:

  1. An uncontrollable feeling of excessive worry, even in the absence of a stressful situation;
  2. Restlessness and lack of sleep;
  3. Poor social interactions; and
  4. Panic attacks.

As can be noted, it is extremely difficult to identify a family member or friend suffering from anxiety as the symptoms are very intimate. It is, therefore, important to notice physical behavioural patterns in people around us. Anxious people generally find it difficult to physically be in a state of relaxation; they subconsciously busy themselves with tasks as a weapon to oppose the mental unrest. The heart rate is increasingly rapid for most of their waking hours, and they also display extreme mood changes.

We often take these minor physical symptoms lightly and label them as being a ‘busy-body’. Sounds all too familiar?

In most cases, anxiety disorders go untreated due to people not realizing that they have a problem, or shrugging it off due to the notion that anxiety is associated with spiritual weakness.

The sad reality is that anxiety is not something that just goes away. In most cases, it’s a life-long struggle. Medication and psychological intervention help individuals cope with anxiety, as is the case with mental disorders.

How can I support a loved one who is suffering from anxiety? Understanding and patience.

Generally, people need time or space before they feel ready to accept that they are indeed unwell and require help. Be honest about why you are worried and tell them that you care for them. If they are not ready to talk, let them know you would like to check in again soon if they’re okay with that. It’s very important to make sure that you don’t constantly make the person aware of their anxious behaviour. Exercise patience in this regard and remember, it’s the only way of survival that they know. Show your support by trying your utmost to reduce the stressors in the life of the person suffering from anxiety. This may not always be physically possible but it gives the person the sense that they don’t have to deal with everything in life alone.

Our society has a long way to go in understanding the sicknesses that plague the mind, but it does seem that – in recent years – we are taking a step in the right direction. We can only educate ourselves and gain the necessary knowledge regarding these issues, and in doing so, we can make a difference in the lives of the soldiers who fall prey to this killer of peace.

Wahab Patel is a final year BA student at UNISA. His dream is to be an agent of positive change in society.

Featured image via FreePik.

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