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Left untreated, anxiety disorder could cause sufferers to develop i) depression. Here's how to recognise the symptoms and what to do. BY KIM ARENDSE BEFORE receiving a diagnosis of anxiety, South Africans will on average visit 11 doctors and spend more than R20 000 on medical investigations.This is according to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). Its founder, Zane Wilson, says she was ill for 10 years and spent thousands before being correctly diagnosed. "By then I was basically housebound. I couldn't drive, couldn't shop, couldn't stay on my own. "Eventually when I became suicidal and spoke to a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder;' she says. She was put on medication. "The first one didn't work effectively but the second one did. I've been anxiety-free for 15 years." Zane started Sadag to help anyone, regardless of their financial status,"particularly those without medical aid and those in rural areas who struggle daily to leave their home or hold a job down", she says. Anxiety attacks can be triggered by stressful life events but can also occur You could be experiencing an anxiety attack if you: have an overwhelming sense of apprehension feel a loss of control or feel like you're going "crazy" your heart beats faster (you could even have chest pain) feel faint have difficulty breathing shake 48 mine! "out of the blue", says Cassey Chambers, operations director at Sadag. The condition is twice as common among women than men."For women, the average age of onset is during their early twenties, while for men it's in their forties,"Cassey says."But it can also affect children and the elderly, as well people of all races and socio-economic groups." How do you know if you have a problem?"Some anxiety can be good for us as it pushes us to work or try harder,"Cassey explains."But when you have too much stress, high anxiety levels over a long period of time or anxiety attacks, it can lead to side effects such as chronic pain, sleeping problems and depression. "These factors negatively impact your life, including your work environment and your relationships, and start to impair your daily functioning. Many people can become debilitated by their anxiety - they avoid situations that cause them to become anxious such as driving or being in a shopping centre."ID Use these guidelines to help yourself through an anxiety attack: I. Take a "time-out"and slow down. Slow your rate of breathing, your racing thoughts, your entire body from head to toe.Then slowly resume your activities. P- Picture a relaxing scene, harnessing all your senses. Put yourself into the scene. s.Take a stroll - if there are people around, talk to someone. Picture a person that you trust, someone who believes in you, supports you and cares about your wellbeing. Now imagine the person is with you, offering you encouragement. Recall a time you handled a similar situation well, or try to bring to mind a past success and the good feeling you experienced at that time. Count backwards from 20 and with every number picture a different image of love, something that pleases and calms you. These could be images you recall from the past or purely your imagination at work. Occupy your mind with an absorbing task: plan your schedule for the day or the evening; try to recall the names of all the Clint Eastwood movies, for instance, you've ever seen; plan a sumptuous meal, from the appetiser through to dessert and imagine yourself taking a bite of each course. Remind yourself that attacks always end - always. Remember, anxiety isn't dangerous. Stretch your body from head to toe. Many South Atricans !we with anxiety or and — don't seek help because they don't know where to go or are worried they may be seen as "crazy"or"wea "But they don't realise the debilitating effect of not getting treatment and that it isn't normal to have high anxiety levels every day or have anxiety attacks;' says Cassey Chambers, operations director at Sadag."If left untreated it can lead to depression and even suicide." Cognitive behavioural therapy, medication or a combination of the two is the recommended treatment. GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists can dmake diagnoses.