What prevents fear

Anxiety - a normal feeling or a mental disorder?

What are anxiety disorders?

Fear is part of life. Everyone knows this feeling. It protects us in some situations and can even be life-saving.

An anxiety disorder, however, is not a fear of a real threat. Anyone affected by this has excessive fear or is afraid of things or situations that other people find normal.

Anxiety disorders can be accompanied by physical signs of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, shortness of breath, nausea, chest tightness and dizziness.

There are different types of anxiety disorders. The most common are:

  • Panic disorder: sudden attacks of fear, extreme fears such as fear of death or "panic attacks" that usually last only a few minutes
  • Claustrophobia (agoraphobia): Fear of narrow spaces, crowds, wide spaces
  • generalized anxiety disorder: persistent fears and worries that lead to tension, anxiety and nervousness
  • social phobia: fear of negative judgment from other people
  • specific phobia: fear of particular things or situations that are not dangerous in themselves, such as spiders, splashing or flying

Where does normal fear end, where does pathological fear begin?

Almost everyone knows the feeling of fear. Anyone who has an itchy feeling in the elevator, who is afraid of spiders or who is afraid to give a speech, does not have an anxiety disorder. However, if you agree with at least one of the following statements, you should seek medical or psychotherapeutic help:

  • I think about my fears more than half the day.
  • I am considerably restricted in my quality of life and freedom of movement through the fears.
  • I get more and more depressed because of my fears.
  • Because of my fears, I was already having suicidal thoughts.
  • I often fight my fears with alcohol, drugs or tranquilizers.
  • My partnership or work is in serious danger because of my fears.

How do anxiety disorders arise?

The reasons why anxiety disorders arise are complex. Past or current stressful life events, unfavorable parenting styles, social burdens as well as biological and hereditary factors are considered to be the cause. Other existing mental or physical illnesses can also promote the occurrence of an anxiety disorder.

Identify anxiety disorders

A doctor or psychotherapist can determine whether you have an anxiety disorder during an examination. He asks for the typical signs and gets an idea of ​​your life situation. It is important that you trust the professionals and respond openly. The more precisely you do this, the better a diagnosis can be made and, based on this, a treatment can be planned with you. You will also be physically examined to rule out any other illness behind the signs.

Treat anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can usually be treated well with psychotherapy or medication. Measures such as exercise or relaxation procedures can also be helpful. Which treatment is suitable for you depends on the particular anxiety disorder you have, your medical history, but above all on your personal wishes and ideas.

If left untreated, anxiety disorders are usually permanent. They rarely resolve on their own. The longer it lasts, the more difficult it is to treat. But even successfully treated anxiety disorders can reappear later in life.

What you can do yourself

  • The most important rule is: face the fear-inducing situations and do not avoid them. That means, for example: take the elevator even if you are afraid of it.

  • It helps if you understand that signs of anxiety such as racing heart or dizziness do not lead to harmful effects such as fainting or heart attack.

  • If you have social fears, you can practice speaking to strangers, making speeches, looking the other person in the eye or asserting yourself in an argument.

  • It's hard to face the fear-inducing situation that has been avoided for years. Take it step by step. The more you can do it, the sooner you can reduce your fears. You can also look forward to small successes.

  • If necessary, contact your general practitioner or a psychotherapy practice straight away. Here you can make an appointment for a so-called "consultation hour". You do not need a transfer for this. Dare to take this step. Nobody chooses their illness. A mental illness, just like a physical one, is not a question of guilt: Nobody would be ashamed to see a doctor about back pain.

  • Expect that treating an anxiety disorder will take time.

  • Crises can be overcome more easily with support. Accept offers of conversation and support from your friends or family members. In self-help groups you can exchange experiences with other people affected.

May 2019, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians