Is Anxiety a Mental Illness: Causes, Symptoms, Types

“We live in a culture that doesn’t take mental health issues seriously. 
There’s a lot of stigma. Some people tell you to just ‘suck it up’, or ‘get it together’, 
or to ‘stop worrying’, or that ‘it’s all in your head’. But I’m here to tell you that 
anxiety disorders - they’re as real as diabetes.”
— Dr. Jen Gunter

“What’s your experience with Anxiety?”

Shay:  Some people’s anxiety comes on as a sudden rush but mine feels like a buildup of different symptoms culminating in a resounding cacophonous symphony. I will start to feel blood rushing to my head, lightheaded and giddy, then the pounding of my heart gets stronger until that’s all I can hear.

À la Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. 

All the while knowing that the anxiety is there and trying to calm myself down, which doesn’t work when you already know you’re panicking, which then in turn intensifies the anxiety because you can’t get a grip of your own body. All of this will happen, while it looks, from the outside, like I’m just simply staring into space.

Me:  Why did you mention “À la Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart”?

Shay:  Ah, have you ever read the story?

Me:  No. I just googled, it is about how the narrator tries to convince readers of his sanity while talking about the murder he committed?

Shay:  Basically, he killed someone, and then at first when the cops came, he could act normally, but the sound of the dead man’s beating heart kept growing until he couldn’t take it and started screaming that the body was under the floorboards and he could hear his heart. 

Anxiety feels a bit like that. Like at first, you don’t wanna admit that an episode is coming cause it’s just light symptoms until they keep growing and then you cannot ignore them anymore. But by then, it’s too late to try to calm yourself down cause it’s probably a full blown panic attack. And it happens out of the blue. So sometimes you have to ignore the symptoms because you’re at work or you’re in a meeting, and you have to “act normal”.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural reaction to a stressful situation, and it may not necessarily amount to a mental illness. It’s similar to fear, but fear is a response to an immediate threat that subsides shortly after. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a response to more uncertain threats, and tends to last for a longer period of time. 

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety 

  • Irritable
  • Hyper-alert
  • Constant worry
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Struggle with concentration

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety 

  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint
  • Fast breathing
  • Tense muscles
  • Loss of appetite
  • “Butterflies” in stomach
  • Pounding heartbeat or palpitations

Anxiety as a Stress Response

When faced with a threat, our brain’s amygdala sets off a defensive mechanism in the nervous system that activates a stress response and prepares the body for the fight-or-flight response. That is when we may start noticing our breathing and heart rate increasing, muscles tensing and we are highly vigilant. However, the brain is also capable of evaluating the threat, and forms a feedback loop that helps keep our stress response in check.

What are some Causes of Anxiety? 

  • Stress
  • Medication or substance use
  • Physical or mental health issues 
  • Current living/environmental concerns
  • Negative or traumatic past experiences 

For individuals with anxiety, this threat-detection mechanism that “switches off” the stress response is not functioning properly, causing them to worry incessantly. And when their mind goes into overdrive, they may start experiencing anxiety that is persistent and pervasive, affecting their work, school and social life, leading them to further avoid circumstances that may trigger their symptoms. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders are characterised not only by distressing, persistent anxiety, but also often marked by the dysfunctional behavioural attempts that aim at reducing that anxiety. This definition sets apart the person who is nervous about taking roller coaster rides and the person who truly cannot leave their house for fear of meeting and interacting with others.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Continuously worried, tense and apprehensive, while experiencing unfocused, negative and out-of-control feelings for prolonged periods of time.

Panic Disorder. Characterised by panic attacks which are sudden, unexpected episodes of intense dread or fear.  Panic attacks are usually accompanied with chest pains, racing heartbeat and breathing difficulties.

Phobias. Excessive, persistent, irrational fears of specific objects, activities or situations that are generally not harmful, and the distress encountered usually leads to avoidance behaviours.

Social Anxiety Disorder. Characterised by anxiety related to interacting or being seen by others, as there may be discomfort about being humiliated, rejected or looked down upon by others.

Separation Anxiety Disorder. Excessive fear or anxiousness about losing or separating from those with whom the individual is attached to.

Don’t dismiss Anxiety

If you are suffering from anxiety, but have been told to ‘suck it up’, ‘get it together’, or to ‘stop worrying’, you are not alone, nor should you be left alone to deal with this on your own. Anxiety, like other health conditions, is not a moral or personal weakness. Just like how we would treat other health conditions like diabetes seriously, we should treat anxiety with the same seriousness. If you would just like to have a chat about it, our psychologists in Singapore are more than happy to help! We offer professional anxiety counselling to anyone who needs it.

A Kind Place supports and welcomes everyone from all walks of life, gender identity, orientation, and backgrounds. We offer free 15-minutes mental health consultations for you to meet with your choice of therapist / psychologist / counsellor in Singapore to support you on your journey of mental wellness. For any enquiries, Whatsapp us or send them to Reach out to us today!

You can also find tailored counselling for men and special needs training as well as professional caregiver support services.

Check out our other blogs: