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Anxiety-panic disorders health centre

Am I 'crazy'?

By Paul Dinsdale
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

We all know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who has said at some point, 'Am I going crazy?' Although it sounds like a flippant, off-hand remark, it can often reveal the presence of personal or emotional problems below the surface, and can be an indicator that everything is not well in a person.

More than 1 in 10 people may have a disabling anxiety disorder at sometime in their life. Given the stresses and strains of modern life, the figure could be much higher. Anxiety disorders, phobias and panic attacks are often linked. Here we look at these problems.

Anxiety disorders

As human beings, anxiety is a completely natural feeling that arises when we face a situation that is threatening or difficult. Normally, the anxiety disappears when we get accustomed to a situation, when the circumstances change, or if we avoid a certain situation.

But if someone feels anxious all the time, or for most of the time, it can make life difficult and interfere with their daily activities and social relationships.

So what is anxiety? Psychologists say that anxiety feels like fear. If it's caused by a problem in our life that looks like it can't be solved, such as money problems, we call it worry, and many people can be labelled as a 'born worrier'. When it's a sudden reaction to a threat, such as someone angry coming towards you or a near miss when driving, we call it fear.

But psychologists say that, although worry, fear and anxiety are unpleasant, they can actually be helpful because they act as 'triggers' to keep the body and mind alert to any potential threat. They give us the impetus to deal with the situation, and in physical terms, they can help the body decide whether to confront a danger or run away from it, known as the 'fight or flight' response.

These feelings only become a problem when they are too strong or when they continue even when the risk or danger has passed. They can make someone feel uncomfortable physically and mentally, prevent them from doing the things they want to, and can generally make life difficult.

Many people regard certain situations as causing them 'stress' and talk about feeling 'stressed out', and this can be another way of describing anxiety and its effects.


Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, a consultant psychiatrist and a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says that although most people will experience anxiety in some form, if a feeling of anxiety lasts for more than 6 months and particularly if there is no obvious reason for it, it could be a form of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), and may require some form of treatment.

"Around 3.5% of the population will suffer from GAD at any one time and of these, three-quarters will not seek any treatment from their GP or another health professional," says Dr Hallstrom.

"Of those who do seek treatment, only half of them will have their condition, or neurosis, recognised and, for this reason, many of them may not receive the appropriate treatment. There is a wide range of factors which can influence whether someone will experience GAD. Some people have more of an internal susceptibility to these feelings, part of it may be genetic, and part can be caused by individual circumstances."

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