Transient anxiety is a completely normal emotion. Every one of us experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. In most cases, anxiety can be explained. Prolonged stress or too many things occurring at once can cause anxiety, for instance. Positive things can also cause anxiety, such as a new relationship, a new job or moving.

Anxiety can also improve your performance for a little while. Intense anxiety has the opposite effect, however. It can be paralysing and cause work or study-related issues or problems with socialising. Anxiety can cause major problems in relationships, for example.

Anxiety disorder refers to a prolonged and excessive state of “emotional incapability” that can be paralysing and have a serious negative effect on daily life. Anxiety disorder is a common issue. As many as 25% of people in Finland suffer from it at some point in their lives.

Symptoms of anxiety disorder

A very typical symptom of anxiety is insomnia, says psychotherapist Minna Tuominen from Mehiläinen.

“The initial symptoms of anxiety may only include trouble sleeping. A person with anxiety may also sleep too much. Symptoms that occur later on include inability to concentrate and to remember things. A person with anxiety may feel that it is difficult to concentrate on watching TV or reading a magazine, for example. Dominant emotions include nervousness, fear, anguish and restlessness,” says Tuominen.

Typical physical symptoms of anxiety include sweating, shaking, the feeling of discomfort on chest, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness. They can manifest as anxiety attacks or a chronic indefinite condition. Nausea, stomach issues, blushing, tingling sensation or numbness in extremities or hands and frequent urination can also be symptoms of anxiety. Many become worried when such symptoms occur and believe that they are hazardous although, in most cases, they are not.

Causes of anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorder can be caused by a variety of issues. The underlying issue might be caused by changes in the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, predisposing factors in the social development environment and certain ways of life, such as excessive use of intoxicants or coffee.

According to Minna Tuominen, anxiety is always caused by various emotions either accessible or inaccessible to the person suffering from anxiety.

“Some people are able to recognise anxiety through their physical symptoms, and some are able to directly identify the underlying emotions, such as fear. Fear and anxiety are distinguishable as fear includes an actual external risk, whereas in anxiety, a specific cause of the emotion cannot always be identified.”

A person who suffers from an anxiety disorder is often worried about their health, relationships or financial situation, and they often consider their prospects to be bleak.

“They might know that they are excessively worried about incidents with a low probability, but this knowledge will not make the anxiety any easier.”

When should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if the anxiety persists and you are unable to determine the origin of the anxiety. There is cause for alarm if the anxiety is paralysing and disturbs your daily life.

Treatment of anxiety disorder

The most commonly effective mode of treatment is a combination of pharmacological treatment and therapy. The most frequently applied mode of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation exercises, which are usually the modes of treatment applied first.

“If you experience an anxiety attack, it is essential to become re-oriented to your current environment and breathe deeply. This will help set things in perspective, become more self-compassionate and to admit that you are not a machine and that you need to relax. The body sends these messages for a purpose,” says psychotherapist Minna Tuominen.

Psychiatrist Seppo Hietanen from Mehiläinen reminds that the treatment of anxiety disorder must involve a long-term plan:

“The primary mode of pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorder involves so called antidepressants, even though the patient may not experience depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are particularly efficient and safe even over prolonged periods of use and they do not cause addiction. Benzodiazepines, also known as sedatives, can also be used temporarily, and beta blockers used to control performance anxiety can alleviate physical symptoms of anxiety at the initial stage of the treatment. Pharmacological treatment of anxiety should continue for at least six months after the symptoms have subsided in order to achieve the ideal outcome. You should never quit a medication without a doctor’s orders.”

“There are effective modes of treating anxiety. All studies indicate that the best help is available through a combination of therapy and medications. Therapy alone can also be helpful, but this requires a lot of time. Over time, the patient will learn how to tolerate their anxiety, which is a sign of progress,” says psychotherapist Minna Tuominen.

If you believe that you suffer from prolonged symptoms of anxiety, please do not hesitate to book an appointment with a general practitioner in order to receive a referral to a psychotherapist or psychologist, if necessary. If you have access to occupational health care, booking an appointment with an occupational health physician is the first step.

Specialists and locations

Jyri Aalto
LL, yleislääkäri
Simo Aarnio
Työterveyshuollon erikoislääkäri
Helena Aatsinki
LL, työterveyshuollon erikoislääkäri