Anxiety can destroy your life

BODY LANGUAGE

Anxiety is a disorder in which people become so anxious that even trivial issues result in them experiencing a range of psychosomatic symptoms. They live in constant fear of the unknown and end up trying all kinds of remedies to find relief.

During an episode, an individual experiences palpitations, sweaty palms, tremors, dry mouth, tightening of the chest and neck muscles, difficulty with breathing, dizziness and is gripped by a fear of losing control. When these symptoms become overwhelming, the individual starts to panic.

What is rarely mentioned are the other symptoms that appear as a result of the anxiety attack. They include severe intractable headaches, upper body aches, severe lower backache, abdominal muscle cramps and an unremitting feeling of tiredness and lack of energy even after long hours of sleep.

Often, patients attend their doctor for their pain — headaches, backaches — or for their tiredness, but say nothing about their anxiety, so it is easily missed by the medical practitioner. They are given analgesics, which may include the addictive types, and tonics, but the symptoms are never relieved.

During a panic or anxiety episode the muscles go into severe involuntary spasms and this can cause small tears in the muscle fibres. These muscle spasms are the cause of the headaches, backaches, tight chest and feeling of tiredness. The tiredness is a result of the muscles being tight for days or weeks and the effect is similar to doing many hours of heavy weight training. The only difference is that with weight training the muscles do not get tight so they recover the next day, whereas with a panic attack the muscle can remain in spasm, which explains the chronic nature of the headaches, backaches and generalised muscle fatigue.


The intractable pain disturbs sleep so the individual becomes sleep deprived. At work, they lack concentration and become irritable. This behaviour can make them unpopular at work and they end up being isolated, which makes them depressed.

They might be diagnosed and treated for their depression but their anxiety could be missed.

Chest pain is another common symptom of a panic attack. Many fear that they are having a heart attack. Failure to diagnose anxiety and panic disorders has resulted in incorrect diagnoses, such as motor neuron disease, angina, strokes, acute migraine and fibromyalgia syndrome. Patients are sent from one costly specialist to another and undergo electrocardiography, angiograms or MRI scans.

In one example of misdiagnosis, a young mother developed pain and weakness of her limbs. She was seen by a general practitioner, then an orthopaedic surgeon and finally a neurologist, who told her that she had motor neuron disease and that the condition has no cure. This left her depressed. But after she was correctly diagnosed and treated for anxiety, she recovered.

Anxiety can affect anyone and at any stage in one’s life, depending on the circumstances that trigger the attack. One of the most common causes of anxiety is insecurity and the fear of the unknown. This insecurity could be about finances or a relationship.

Often, patients who suffer from intractable pain worry that they have terrible illnesses such as cancer. This fear is compounded when pain treatment doesn’t help and the doctors cannot tell their patients what the cause for their pain is.

When patients do not know the cause of their pain, they fear they are going to die and they worry about their children.

Among the most common and overprescribed medications for anxiety are the highly addictive benzodiazepines, which should not be prescribed for long periods.

Patients diagnosed with anxiety should be taught about the condition and ways of dealing with this life-long condition. Psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and relaxation techniques should be the mainstay of treatment for anxiety.

A simple breathing technique works wonders for these patients but they must practice it regularly.

If anxiety is not diagnosed early then patients can end up leading very miserable lives at work, home and in their relationships.

If you experience any of the symptoms of anxiety, it would be wise to seek professional help before you end up with severe depression and all the other unpleasant consequences associated with long-standing anxiety.

Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician in Cape Town, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Ellapen Rapiti
Ellapen Rapiti

Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.

Related stories

Happiness is too important to leave to chance

Newfound clarity on the important things in life has been hailed as a silver lining of this crisis. Planning a future around ‘purpose, passion and pay’ may be the key to having it all

Othering fatness: Medical professionals’ negative bias towards fat people jeopardises the quality of care

Pontsho Pilane speaks to three women who have found it difficult to access quality healthcare because of medical professionals’ weight bias

Mental health is vital in treating infertility successfully

Women with a history of depression are at greater risk, whereas antidepressant medication can negatively affect men’s fertility

The unbearable sadness of lockdown

Loneliness can seem like a hopeless hole that increases anxiety, depression, fears or thoughts of suicide

Covid-19 is taking its toll on people’s state of mind

The future is uncertain, and the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression is rising

We can’t expect learners and teachers to function optimally right now

It may well be that we have warm bodies in schools, but to think their minds are highly productive is a reach
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

NSFAS’s woes do not help its mandate

Nehawu wants the scheme’s administrator, Randall Carolissen, to be removed

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday