We don’t know too much about anxiety disorders (especially if we don’t suffer from them ourselves), but they’re some of the most prevalent mental illnesses in South Africa. In the interest of staying informed, here are eight things you may not know about anxiety.
1 Anxiety has many branches. Under the blanket of ‘anxiety disorders’, you’ll find generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
2 Anxiety affects you as much physically as it does mentally. These disorders are characterised by way more than anxious thoughts. Some physical symptoms, especially during a panic attack, include shortness of breath, shaking, nausea, headaches, rapid heartbeat and dizziness.
3 Agoraphobia is second only to major depressive disorder as the most prevalent mental illness in South Africa. Agoraphobia is characterised by extreme or irrational fear of open, public places. A sufferer generally feels that a bustling environment is unsafe, and that there’s no easy way to escape it.
4 Statistically, women are twice as likely to be afflicted by anxiety disorders as men. The differences in brain chemistry between men and women may be the reason for it.
5 Anxiety can cause or exacerbate physical illnesses. Besides the physical symptoms directly associated with anxiety, evidence suggests that people who suffer from anxiety are also at greater risk for developing chronic illnesses in their lifetime.
6 It is thought to be a hereditary disorder, but that’s only partly true. Many people who suffer from and have a family history of anxiety are thought to have inherited it. The general consensus, though, is that anxiety results from a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
7 Anxious people are more sensitive to smell. Strange but true: people who suffer from anxiety disorders tend to perceive neutral smells as unpleasant ones. That’s because, bizarrely, emotional issues get intertwined with the olfactory system.
8 Anxiety levels can be reduced with exercise. According to research, just 20 minutes of brisk exercise can make you feel less anxious almost immediately – no medication necessary.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a severe anxiety disorder, head to Sadag.org or call 011 234 4837.
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