Anxiety neurosis: what is it and what symptoms

Over the past two centuries, psychology and, especially, its clinical application, has been modifying several of its postulates and concepts.

Among them are the diagnostic systems, which have not only been adding and removing psychological disorders but, in addition, the existing ones have been renamed in terms that one might think are something else.

One of these disorders is that of anxiety neurosis, a term which today would be rare to find in the history of a patient . Despite being outdated, its definition and coinage are very interesting. If you want to know more, we invite you to continue reading.

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What is anxiety neurosis?

The term anxiety neurosis is an expression, now in disuse, originally coined by Sigmund Freud . With this term, the famous Austrian psychoanalyst referred to when a person suffered periods of deep anxiety and a lot of body tension. When a person was diagnosed under this label, it meant that he suffered from a state of high excitability and, also, he felt very worried about his future, especially seeing him very bad (anxious waiting).

Although today no psychologist would give someone the diagnosis of anxiety neurosis, it should be noted that it has been of vital importance when it comes to understanding anxiety disorders and the classifications that have been made of them. The current equivalent to this type of neurosis would be the panic attack .

Neurosis in the history of Psychology

As we were saying, before the current elaboration of the classification for anxiety disorders the term neurosis was used with a definition very similar to the current one of this type of disorders.

Freud dedicated part of his work in preparing a detailed description of disorders that shared the label of neurosis, such as phobic neurosis, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, depressive neurosis … and, being the main theme of this article, anxiety neurosis. Today, all these neuroses have been renamed under different categories, especially within anxiety disorders.

However, who first used the term ‘neurosis’ was not the most famous psychoanalyst of all time, but a Scottish doctor and chemist, William Cullen, who first used the term in 1769 . He used this word referring to sensory and motor disorders that were caused by diseases in the nervous system.

In this way, the word neurosis made reference, at that time, to any mental disorder that supposed some kind of distortion in the rational thought of the sufferer, in addition to diminishing its functioning at a family, social and labor level.

Today the word neurosis has been practically forgotten in the academic field . No clinical psychologist, no matter how psychoanalyst, would use this term when diagnosing someone. However, this does not mean that the word has been totally forgotten in popular culture. Its use at the colloquial level is synonymous with obsession, nervousness and eccentricity.

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What are your symptoms?

As we saw, anxiety neurosis is no longer a diagnostic label in force in clinical practice and, therefore, to say that it has symptoms would not be entirely correct, since this pathology really, as it was conceived at the time, I would not exist. However, you can half overlap with the concept we have today of what is panic disorder.

Thus, anxiety neurosis can be understood as a pathological problem in which the person has episodes in which he feels great fear and anxiety , appearing suddenly and without any prior warning. The crisis begins suddenly, with no clear factor explaining why the episode is beginning to occur.

These episodes of this type of neurosis coincide with panic attacks, which have a variable duration, from about 10 to 20 minutes to hours . Their frequency of appearance also varies, being possible to manifest them every long time or, in the most worrying cases, several times each month.

The anxiety that the person suffers is very high, accelerating his heart and, usually, feeling pectoral pain, which makes many times think that they are suffering a heart attack.

Below we will see a list of symptoms that, although they are taken from the DSM-5 for panic disorder; most of its symptoms coincide with the original conception of anxiety neurosis .

  • Excessive fear of losing control, going crazy or dying.
  • Tremors throughout the body.
  • Sweating and chills.
  • Fast heartbeat and feeling that you are going to have a heart attack.
  • Sensation of severe chest pain without apparent biological cause.
  • Feeling short of breath without apparent biological cause.
  • Choking sensation without apparent biological cause.
  • Nausea, hyperacidity, acid reflux and desire to vomit.
  • Cramps
  • Mateos and feeling of loss of balance.
  • Numbness of limbs
  • Dry mouth and throat.
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Decreased sexual desire

During the crisis, not all the symptoms shown here are manifested, but a significant amount of them do. The discomfort that the person suffers while having the panic attack is very high , which can even increase the anxiety itself, which is already high. This is one of the factors that can make the episode last longer.

Since the attacks are not predictable, the person lives in fear of being able to experience them in situations where, if something happens to him, his physical integrity may be compromised. People who would suffer from this anxiety neurosis would be constantly alert.

As already said, many of the symptoms suffered during the crisis have no apparent biological cause . On many occasions, those who suffer from panic disorders, despite the fact that their doctor has told them that they do not have any type of health problem that explains pectoral pain and shortness of breath, they still fear that they may die from an attack. to the heart or asphyxiation.

Affectation in daily life

Although, since the term anxiety neurosis is outdated, it is not possible to know statistics and studies that talk about how it interferes in the day-to-day life of patients who would suffer from this disorder, it is possible, as we have done in the section on symptoms, extrapolate it with how people with panic disorder live their daily lives.

Panic attacks can occur uniquely, especially in situations with high stress. The person can be overcome by the demands of everyday life , especially if there has been an event that has put special stress on him.

However, the interference is very serious when panic attacks occur frequently and without warning. The person does not have the ability to know what is going to activate all the symptoms mentioned above, causing him to do daily actions that, perhaps, lead him to the very unpleasant situation.

The person lives constantly in a state of hypervigilance and tension . He is afraid that the future will be worse than the present. He also fears that it will happen just when he is in a situation where he will hardly be able to help him, which causes, as a side effect, to develop agoraphobia.

With agoraphobia, unlike the popular idea that it is the fear of leaving home, there is really reference to the fear of being in a situation where a problem is suffered and nobody can help us.

As a consequence of this, the person with panic disorders combined with agoraphobia begins to restrict their behavior, avoiding certain places or avoiding leaving their safe place , usually being always at home with someone’s company.

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The treatment for anxiety neurosis would be the same for panic attacks. It would consist of helping the person who suffers these episodes of anxiety to develop and perform in a more functional way in their daily life, to be able to enjoy a family, social and work life as close to normal as possible. For this it is necessary to combine psychopharmacology with psychotherapy .

In the first place, the pharmacological route usually uses SSRI antidepressants, especially paroxetine, sertraline and fluoxetine, which selectively inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, raising the mood. IRSN, specifically venlafaxine, would also be prescribed.

Other drugs that are prescribed sedatives such as benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants and induce a state of calm. The most used for this condition are alprazolam and clonazepam , although its use would be limited in short-term treatment due to its high risk of addiction.

Secondly, there is psychotherapy, which would focus on working the distortions in the person’s mind that make him think that he will suffer an imminent panic attack that will end his life. It is also intended to make him see that there are not as many dangers as he thinks and that, if something happens to him, it is quite likely that someone will end up helping him if he were, for example, on the street or in a public space.

Strategies for stress management, relaxation, breathing control are taught, and ideas that can serve as anxiety activators are also worked on. For this, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually used , where the person is encouraged to express their feelings and ideas regarding their problem and how it affects their daily life.


by Abdullah Sam
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