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How worry or stress can become anxiety disorder

How worry or stress can become anxiety disorder.
How worry or stress can become anxiety disorder.
Image: 123RF

In this country, mental health issues have often been stigmatised, especially in the black community. Arguably, a lack of knowledge has been the biggest contributor to this.

Another stumbling block in the past has been cultural, where certain behaviours are attributed to madness or supernatural influences. With the advent of time, this has started to change.

According to clinical psychologist Dr Palesa Mahlangu, even those in her profession are becoming aware of the importance of meeting patients halfway.

"It's also encouraging where you now find psychologists also moving towards respecting and acknowledging the importance of indigenous ways of understanding the world," she said.

She stressed that understanding where a patient is coming from allows for a dialogue to happen, where the patient can then understand that maybe they're suffering from a mental issue rather than something that was inflicted on them.

"For me, it is really important that we need to acknowledge where people are at and then dialogue with them up to a point where they realise that, 'OK, this may not necessarily be caused by what I thought' . But we start with a dialogue, then educate them."

The mental health issue that Sowetan was discussing with Mahlangu is anxiety disorder.

"Anxiety is a normal response to worry or stress but when it is very severe or long-lasting or disproportionate to what is happening or the situation, it can become known as anxiety disorder," she said.

The symptoms of the disorder manifest differently in everyone but there are some common symptoms.

There are also various types of anxiety - generalised anxiety, social, panic attacks, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or behaviours. Of these, the most spoken about are arguably panic attacks.

Normally when a person is suffering an attack, these are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Overwhelming fear;
  • Physical distress - for a few minutes;
  • Racing, pounding heartbeats;
  • Chest pains;
  • Dizziness/lightheaded;
  • Nausea;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Tingling/numbness in hands
  • Chills;
  • Sense of unreality;
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy; and
  • Fear of dying.

Mahlangu recommends psychotherapy to help treat this disorder.

"It would not be counselling, per se, it would be psychotherapy because it needs to be clinically based, looking at symptoms then doing things like cognitive behavioural modification," she said.

How to work through a panic attack

Here's help for a panic attack:

Try to slow down your breathing and thoughts;

Concentrate on an object near you and focus on its attributes to slowly calm yourself down;

Count backwards from a number of your choice;

Take a deep breath. It will help steady you;

Stretch your body from head to toe;

Talk to someone. This will help centre you; and

Get physical. Take a walk if you can walk outside somewhere.

Always try to keep in mind that your attack will end; it will not go on forever.

In other cases, like OCD, medication can help.

Mahlangu is also not opposed to holistic means of treating anxiety disorder - means such as acupuncture and meditation, and others of their ilk.

She feels that healing is about how a person feels and that the most important thing is that people get the help they need as soon as possible.

"I would think that we need to be open minded [to the fact] that there are alternative ways of knowing and alternative ways of helping .

"Anything that is authentic, it's OK. People should always research and verify if some recommended way of dealing with their challenges is authentic."

Another mental health issue that is closely associated with anxiety is depression. In fact, the two conditions tend to coexist.

"Remember, anxiety can be caused by things that make you feel low.

"We said anxiety can be caused by prolonged or severe stress, so obviously because that thing is prolonged, it can get you into a depression. For example, somebody who cannot keep a job because of their OCD - they have an issue about cleanliness and washing hands and they can't keep up with work - obviously not having a job will make you feel low," Mahlangu said.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Hexor for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) on depression in the workplace, people diagnosed with the condition took an average of 18 days off work due to depression.

The study also showed that of the 80% of participants who took time off from work due to depression, 32% did not tell their employer the reason for the time off.

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