A paralysing fear of going out or being sick, or an irrational fear of animals – these are some of the possible symptoms of anxiety disorders that are collectively termed as anxiety neurosis. The treatment of this disorder takes a long time, with its effectiveness being largely conditioned by the patient’s motivation.
“The term anxiety neurosis is no longer used in modern-day science. It has been replaced by anxiety disorder," says Jakub Paliga, Chief Physician of the Katowice Neurotic Patients Branch of Górny Śląsk Medical Centre (GCM), in a talk with e-zdrowie.
Anxiety disorders are caused, among other things, by prolonged stress. Patients start to develop irrational and crippling fear. This might manifest itself in an exaggerated concern about the future, or about one’s own and family’s health, or fear of speaking in public, and might become a serious barrier to socialising with other people. These negative emotions might overwhelm all other feelings the individual may have.
The mechanism of developing neurosis
“In neurotic patients, certain stimuli and situations trigger a childhood conflict," e-zdrowie learned from Maria Sygut, a psychologist and psychotherapist at GCM.
Ms Sygut explains this mechanism: under difficult circumstances, a child will cope to the best of its ability. So when the mother, for instance, fails to respond to the child’s needs, he or she “desensitises" in order not to cry and experience frustration all the time. The child learns that other people do not care about his or her needs, so he or she gives up on these needs. Later inn adult life, such an individual is incapable of accepting help from others. He or she is afraid of depending on anyone else. This dependence, however, is an essential part of establishing relations.
“You might say that neurosis is like a coat that once used to protect you but now, in adult life, it turns out too tight and instead of protecting us, it becomes a huge liability and source of discomfort," Ms Sygut adds.
Paliga says that there are also genetic, developmental, neurological and other biological components of neurosis.
“The anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of forms. In its most basic form, the anxiety is paroxysmal in nature, with people feeling as if they were dying, having a heart attack or suffering from some other disease. The second form is less severe but more long-lasting – we often call it trait anxiety, where the anxiety starts to “encroach" upon different areas of life and moves from one aspect to another. In effect, you live under a permanent state of terror," says Paliga.
Anxiety elicits a number of somatic responses in patients, such as increased blood pressure, increased heart rate or upset stomach. Experienced over a longer period of time, this stress might cause a range of diseases.
“Neurosis is a condition you cannot function with normally, but it is possible to live with it by adjusting your surroundings to the condition," says Jakub Paliga.
For those who seek treatment, medicine offers pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Medications help alleviate the feeling of anxiety and prevent the relapse of symptoms. “Since this is, however, an emotional problem, medication will not solve it. The only way to get rid of neurotic symptoms is to use psychotherapy," Jakub Paliga, a psychotherapist himself, stresses.
There is, however, one barrier that makes psychotherapy a less viable option - the limited access to state-funded benefits of this type in some areas.
The National Health Fund provides a refund on treatment received in the departments that conduct group therapy. According to Paliga, some 30-40 percent of patients show signs of major improvement after 12 weeks of therapy. “Real changes, however, become evident only after the therapy is completed," says Mr Paliga.
Not everyone can, unfortunately, afford the comfort of taking a few-months-long sick leave. The second problem involves the patient’s commitment to therapy. “It is like with physiotherapy – if the patient is unwilling to exercise, even the best rehabilitator will fail," Mr Paliga concludes.