They creep out of the blue and hit the sufferer with a wave of adrenaline that causes the body to go into shock and experience symptoms such as shaking, sweating, racing palpitations, hyperventilation and tunnel vision.
Last year, 7 million tranquilliser prescriptions were issued by the NHS for people suffering with anxiety disorders. But one professor asks: is this really necessary?
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said: “At London dinner parties, everybody has a condition, an anxiety to talk about; if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. It has become normal and fashionable to be anxious; it is a little bit edgy.”
He believes that the modern habit of medicalising everything has rendered us unable to cope with life’s everyday difficulties. With any number of pills and ‘quick-fix’ solutions available to treat any number of conditions, it seems we’re developing the mentality that any slight inconsistency is a health disorder.
The controversial question is this: has anxiety disorder been glamorised? Only this month, Vogue’s editor Alexandra Shulman admitted to regularly suffering from panic attacks, which she claims to treat using the Xanax she carries around in her handbag and nicknames her ‘lucky charm’.
Furedi argues that the stiff upper lip Britons were revered for during the war is today far closer to a pout, as everything that goes slightly wrong in a person’s life is excessively analysed, complained about, published on social networking sites, medically diagnosed and treated with drugs.
He asks- why are we approaching social problems with medical solutions?
Other, less sceptical experts believe that the increasing number of people treated for anxiety disorder in the UK is not so much down to a trend, as a symptom of modern living.
Our technology-driven culture encourages the attitude that everything should be immediately available, from messages, to breaking news, to miracle cures. This constant buzz of communication only serves to instil unattainable ideals – such as how to be a perfect mother, how to have the perfect body, how to be a picture of health and so on. These images of beauty, success and progress only make reality all the more dull in comparison. Thus, we begin to feel there must be something wrong with us.
The pressure is on to be happy, successful, wealthy and fit. Lifestyle magazines, self help books and even government agendas simply heighten this pressure and increase the nation’s anxieties.
With Britain at breaking point both socially and economically, how do we deal with the problem?
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating. They can cause a person to become housebound because they are too afraid to venture out, they can make work stresses a thousand times more stressful, and relationships can easily disintegrate. Instead of taking drugs, many GPs would prescribe a sufferer to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programme. CBT aims to tackle negative thought patterns by replacing them with positive ones.
Whether or not anxiety disorder is being fuelled by a ‘vogue’ for mental health issues as Professor Furedi has so controversially argued, there is no denying that anxiety is a real state of mind that has real physical impacts on the health and mental wellbeing of a sufferer.
It is important to get to the bottom of an anxiety problem, and drugs are unlikely to do this.
If you would like to find out more about how CBT and counselling work, please visit our Types of Distress Page. Alternatively, you can speak to a counsellor directly by using our search tool.
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