Qn.At times I get unnecessarily anxious which worries a lot. Is this an ailment or what causes it? I have tried to stay calm but I get overwhelmed”
It sounds as though you suffer from an anxiety disorder. This, by definition is much more than feeling anxious when a child is late from school, or the anxiety that one feels before an examination. The medical or clinical condition of an anxiety disorder is more severe, lasts longer and does not allow one to lead a normal life.
Just to complicate your life a little more, there are at least five different types of anxiety disorders, and only a doctor can tell you which one you might be suffering from.
You might for example, be suffering from Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD). You might in this case be feeling uneasy all the time, a condition you might describe as being on edge all the time. In this state you might be feeling alert and vigilant all the time, seeking in your mind to find the cause of your state of anxiety. When you can’t find a reason to feel anxious, you get even more anxious because you “know” there is a reason to be anxious.
When you get to bed, you are unable to fall off to sleep. The mind continues to race as the adrenalin in the system continues to pump, leading to a racing heart, fast breathing and sweating and trembling all over. These are the classical symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Then there is the so called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a very distressing condition and is also characterised by feelings of severe anxiety. Repeated hand washing is the typical symptom
In a recent case of OCD, the young woman was severely disabled and presented with what she called burnout. She worked as an accountant in a large firm. At the age of 35, she was a senior partner, wife, mother, a daughter and all the other things.
It was however as an accountant that her problems began to show. She was obsessed with accuracy and kept checking and rechecking all the work given to her by her junior staff.
At first she worked eight hours like everybody else. This worked well for as long as her workload was small. In time, she supervised a large group of people and her obsessional nature required her to go into details in each case. When we saw her, she was working up to 14 hours daily, neglecting all her other roles.
As a wife, her life was no easier. She described her husband as a messy guy, who left shoes, ties and socks all over the place. That he ate in a hurry and did not chew his food properly. His wardrobe was without order and she spent many hours every week arranging his personal space. She was upset by his refusal to put in place a timetable for their sexual life. She wanted a properly arranged timetable to help her plan her time.
In time, she avoided sexual encounters because it was such a messy business. When her husband came home late, she would get up, and check at least three times to be sure that he had locked the car, the front door and all the windows!
Life as a mother consisted of similar rituals. The children’s lunch boxes were checked for scratches daily, and were sterilised daily. She was constantly afraid that the children might get “some germs”.
The children had written programmes that were to be followed from the moment they got home after school. The time for eating the apple was not to be confused for the time to drink the milk! Bath time was to be at exactly 6:15 pm and not 6:20 pm.
When we saw her, she explained her state of extreme anxiety and fear that would not allow her to sleep, kept her sweating all the time, and with a racing heart. Her world lacked the perfection that she craved. She was obsessed with order. Its absence led to the kind of anxiety that you now describe.
As young doctors, we were kept awake by middle of the night calls from Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments of major hospitals. Patients with panic attacks would arrive in the A&E with chest pain, sweating, breathlessness, racing heart and would in all ways appear to be having a heart attack. This is another type of Anxiety Disorder.
Panic attacks are common cases for admission to ICU as they resemble heart attacks. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) are other conditions you could be suffering from.