Clinical update

Anxiety

Anxiety is the feeling of fear that occurs when faced with threatening or stressful situations. It is a normal response when confronted with danger, but, if it is overwhelming or the feeling persists, it could be regarded as an anxiety disorder. 

Essential facts

Anxiety is the feeling of fear that occurs when faced with threatening or stressful situations. It is a normal response when confronted with danger, but, if it is overwhelming or the feeling persists, it could be regarded as an anxiety disorder. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder, affect about one in ten. 


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What’s new

Women are nearly twice as likely to experience anxiety than men, a review of 48 international studies has found. 

Pregnant women, people below the age of 35, and those with long-term health conditions, are liable to experience relatively high rates of anxiety, according to the review by the University of Cambridge. 

Researchers say anxiety disorders are increasingly being recognised as important determinants of poor health and major contributors to health service use. 

Signs/symptoms

Worrying all the time, feeling tired, being irritable, struggling to concentrate and sleeping badly can all be signs of anxiety. Physical symptoms can include an elevated heart rate, sweating, muscle tension and pain, dizziness, feeling faint, indigestion and diarrhoea, and shortness of breath. 

Causes/risk factors

Women, in particular pregnant women, people below the age of 35 and those with long-term health problems have higher rates of anxiety, according to the review. 

A traumatic event or past trauma, mental health problems, genetics, alcohol misuse, some illegal street drugs and some prescription drugs are believed to heighten the risk.

How you can help your patient

Listen to the patient’s anxieties and respond, and provide information in language they can relate to. Repeat the information, as people who are very anxious may find it hard to absorb what you tell them. 

Allow them to have a family member or a friend present if it helps allay anxieties. Be aware of non-verbal communication and give them plenty of opportunities for questions.

Expert comment

Jane Stone, director of nursing at mental health care provider Priory Group

‘Anxiety is common and affects everyone at different points in their lives. It is important to tell patients – and nurses – that they are not alone if they experience anxiety. 

‘It is absolutely vital not to make assumptions about the causes, or the person. Everyone is an individual with their own needs and must be assessed as such. 

‘There are so many factors which can trigger the condition, and one could be the appointments that patients have with nursing and healthcare staff. Anxiety might affect a patient’s ability to engage in the appointment or admissions procedure. 

‘In turn, they may be reluctant to have the treatment or intervention. They may appear angry or defensive, or be passive. Patients may have looked up their symptoms on the internet, so their knowledge may be based on this, which in turn can increase anxiety.’

 


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