Anxiety Related Disorders

What is Obsessive compulsive disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterised by obsessional thoughts followed by compulsive acts which are performed to ease the anxiety and distress associated with the obsessional thoughts.  These obsessional thoughts are usually unwanted, distressing and intrusive ideas, suggestions or images.  The person experiencing these thoughts may attempt to resist them as they are usually unpleasant and anxiety provoking.  In an attempt to relieve the distress associated with these unpleasant thoughts, some may engage in compulsive behaviours such as repeated hand washing to try and reduce the distressing effect of the intrusive thought which in this case may be a fear of contamination by germs.

How common is Obsessive compulsive disorder?

It is estimated that around 800,000 people in the United Kingdom are affected by obsessive compulsive disorder.  This translates to 12 in every 1,000 people.  It affects men, women and children.  Obsessive compulsive disorder is classified as an anxiety related disorder and the underlying emotion associated with this condition as with all other anxiety disorders is fear.

What causes Obsessive compulsive disorder?

The exact cause of OCD is unknown.  It has been suggested that a chemical which is present in the brain called serotonin may be out of balance.  This theory has been validated to some extent by the response of some patient to medications that increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.   Those with an anxious personality style or people suffering from an underlying personality disorder are at an increased risk of developing OCD.  Certain medical conditions could also manifest with obsessional symptoms similar to OCD.

How is OCD treated?

The symptoms of OCD respond to psychological therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  This involves exposure to the triggers that bring about the intrusive thoughts, allowing the obsessional thought to occur and refraining from engaging in compulsive behaviour.  If symptoms are more severe then medications may be prescribed.  The treatment usually involves higher than usual doses of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors also known as anti-depressants. These medications although referred to as anti-depressants are effective in treating anxiety related disorders such as OCD.

What can I do to prevent myself from developing OCD?

OCD is an anxiety related disorder and the underlying emotion that fuels the condition is fear and in some cases guilt.  It will be beneficial to seek help in the form of psychological therapies if you feel you are struggling with an anxiety like condition or obsessional thoughts which are unpleasant and distressing.  Learning to manage stress effectively, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, optimised nutrition/hydration, regular exercise and participating in enjoyable and meaningful activities are all beneficial in ensuring that life circumstances do not get the better of you.  Most anxiety disorders usually result from overwhelming life situations and persistent stress in a significant number of cases can progress to a full blown anxiety disorder.

What is specific phobia?

Specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that is usually triggered when a person is exposed to a specific situation or object.  This situation or object causes significant anxiety to the extent that the person must avoid or escape from the feared situation or object.  Although the fearful response is recognised as excessive and irrational by the individual, it is extremely difficult for them not to experience this fear in the presence of certain situations or objects.  Phobias usually develop after someone has suffered a traumatic event, has witnessed others suffer a traumatic event and can be learned in childhood by observing the response of role models to certain situations or objects.

What are the different types of specific phobia?

There are different types of specific phobias.  These include:

  • Animal phobias such as the fear of dogs, cats, birds and snakes. These are the most common form of specific phobias
  • Situational phobias like fear of flying, driving a car, being in an enclosed space such as an elevator, going over bridges or through tunnels
  • Natural environment phobias such as water, storms and heights
  • Blood-injection-injury phobia which involves a fear of getting injured, seeing blood, invasive medical procedures like injections or blood tests
  • Others such as fear of costumed characters, fear of falling down and fear of loud noises

What are the symptoms of specific phobia?

The symptoms of specific phobia are similar to those experienced in an anxious state; however, the anxiety symptoms experienced in a phobic situation are significantly more intense and disabling.  They include:

  • Over exaggerated and somewhat irrational fear of a specific object or situation
  • Avoidance of the specific object or situation
  • Intense physical symptoms of anxiety and panic such as pounding heart, choking sensation, breathlessness, excessive sweating, trembling and shaking, numbness and tingling, dizziness or light-headedness and feelings of impending doom.
  • Becoming anxious for long periods in anticipation of coming in contact with the feared situation or object

What is the treatment for specific phobia?

The treatment for specific phobia is usually psychological therapy to help overcome the fear associated with a particular situation or object.  This usually involves exposure to the feared situation or object in gradual steps and learning to substitute the anxiety response with being relaxed and less fearful.  With time the original learned response of fear is replaced by a more adaptive new response.  Anti-anxiety medication such as Valium or Xanax may be used to help control the symptoms of anxiety when a person has to be subjected to the phobic situation.  An example would be taking Valium before getting a flight.

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