Anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness. It is not just a passing emotion many people feel while faced with a difficult situation. For people with an anxiety disorder, worry, fear and nervousness are a constant factor and could also be overwhelming and disabling.
There are several types of anxiety disorders – panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety comes in many different forms, which is why distinction between »normal« anxiety and a mental illness isn’t always clear.
The exact cause of anxiety disorders has not been determined so far, but scientists agree that the cause is multi-factorial. Most common signs and symptoms are excessive worrying, the feeling of pain, irrational fear and uneasiness, sleep problems, shortness of breath, muscle tension, indigestion, and nausea. The intensity and duration of symptoms as well as problems with daily functioning caused by the symptoms contribute to the diagnosis of anxiety disorders.
Although there are no specific tests for diagnosing anxiety disorders, doctors usually combine a number of tests for other illnesses, and combine those result to determine the diagnosis. You may also be referred to mental health professionals who use a specially designed interview and assessment tools to make a final diagnosis.
There are several different ways for anxiety disorders to be treated. Either with medication or psychotherapy, relaxation or cognitive-behavioural therapy, or just by dietary and lifestyle changes.
As medical students we are affected by anxiety orders significantly more than the general population, either as outside observers, students, physicians or even patients. The regular consumption of products that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks or even chocolate, heavily influence the development of these disorders.
We should pay attention to ourselves and others to be able to quickly recognize an anxiety disorder. In case of prolonged mental tension, irritability and impaired concentration, in addition to heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache and nausea, anxiety disorders could be one of the possible explanations, since they mimic the symptoms of other illnesses, thus making the patient (or us) even more scared.
Since medical students represent a population under significant pressure, several studies have been done on the topic of anxiety (and depression) among medical students. Almost 30% exhibit anxiety, the same percentage as depression, with the most common anxiety manifestation in the form of “fearing the worst happening”. In the general population the percentage is lower, adding up to 10%. This is why we, as young future physicians wish to illuminate the fact that mental health among medical students and the general population should not be neglected or overlooked either with the help of mental health awareness campaigns and projects (such as the In Reflection project from SloMSIC Ljubljana). Mental health should not be a taboo.