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Well | Within the Mind - Anxiety Disorder

Published:Monday | February 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMJody-Anne Lawrence

"It was during my days at university that the emotions became unbearable. I had always had my crying spells and overwhelmed moments, but it wasn't until I was barely functioning that I realised that this was not a normal bad day occurrence," Tonya Mullings* 29 year old from St Andrew told Outlook.

"The average person experiences some amount of anxiety about something, but when it's really excessive, and affects a person's ability to function, it is considered a disorder," Associate Clinical Psychologist Justine East explains. That is what Mullings thought it was - just another bad day.

Mullings recalled having bad days every now and again. Something extreme did not have to happen that day for her to cry or lock herself in a room or a bathroom stall when she felt like she was drowning emotionally. She told Outlook that there were times when she got so overwhelmed it felt like she couldn't breathe. But when her disappearing act turned from once a month to once a week then every other day, she knew that there was a problem. She could no longer hide her emotions from her close friends, and one of them suggest that she might need professional help.

"My classmates and friends asked me what was going on at first and I would make excuses. But after awhile, a friend told me that she could see me struggling. It started to affect my grades - even in courses that I did not have issues with. I would be good in class, but when it came to the end of the semester, I just was barely passing 'cause I would completely lose it in exams. She told me that maybe I needed to get counselling."

Mullings admitted that inwardly she scoffed at the idea, because like many others, she thought that there was a stigma attached to seeing a therapist. She was not crazy, so she was not going to see a therapist. But struggling through another semester was getting unbearable and failure was even scarier than getting counselling - so she did.

After a few sessions, she was diagnosed with depression. She continued counselling until she graduated from university, becoming functional. Only two of her friends knew that she was getting treatment.

Leaving school and being unemployed took a toll on Mullings. At first, she was optimistic that she would find a job, but as time passed without success, depression set in. The thought of her failing at life made her slump into a dark place, so when she finally started working, it seemed as this would be the best thing for her. At times, her experience at university set in. But it was not until she started to feel ill that she had to find out what was wrong.

This time, she was diagnosed not with depression, but rather anxiety. "I was even given some anti-anxiety medication to cope when my symptoms got to the point that it impaired my ability to function daily," she told Outlook admitting that she was not pleased with having to be medicated to function daily. It took some time, with medication and some podcasts, instead of daily bouts of anxiety, Mullings has managed to get her condition under control.

Mullings' case is not unique, East notes that there are different anxiety disorders, based on various types of objects or situations that bring fear, anxiety, or avoidance behaviour, and the associated thoughts. "A person can be fearful of separating from someone, performing, or being observed by others, and fear of a specific object such as flying or heights, fear of social situations," she noted.

Do not self-diagnose, seek a psychologist if you think that you might be suffering from anxiety.

*Name changed upon request.

She outlined five symptoms that someone suffering from anxiety may experience:

(1) Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness and avoidance of situations or objects.

(2) Heart palpitations or increased heart rate for no apparent reason.

(3) Shortness of breath.

(4) Problems sleeping.

(5) Increased sweating and/or shaking or trembling.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms she recommends consulting a therapist.