Anxiety, that all consuming panic feeling, that may come on in quiet waves, or in a sudden rush, are normal reactions to stress and happen when current stress is involved, or even memories of stressful situations that have happened, or stressful things that may be about to happen, or potentially about to happen.
Sounds vague, but it really isn’t, anxiety is actually quite clear, it’s the body’s physical and emotional reaction to a stressful emotional or mental trauma. Anxiety is both normal, for most people, and beneficial, when managed, appropriately, and understood.
The benefits of anxiety stem directly from the cause. We become hyper alert, and subsequently anxious, in situations that our bodies perceive as danger, and which pose a threat to our overall well being. We become more attentive, and, in actual dangerous physical situations this is invaluable to survival. However, if our bodies are reacting to emotion, or past/future events the excess energy expresses itself in anxiety. The reaction, when occurring in beneficial situations, alerts us to dangers, and prepares us for fight or flight, which, as the name implies, means we either take a stand and prepare to fight, or we run. Either way, our bodies require the extra boost of adrenaline and hyper focus required in such a situation. However, with anxiety disorders these feelings occur during times when there is no physical danger present and are often the result of past trauma, and involve excessive fear, anxiety and feelings of nervousness.
Anxiety disorders currently affect almost 30% of adults at one time or other in their lifetimes. And while anxiety is treatable, and manageable, with effective treatments available, it is the most common mental disorder in the United States.
The numbers change, depending on the reliability of individuals reporting or even understanding they have suffered an anxiety attack.
Women are at at a greater risk of suffering from anxiety, compared to men and there are several types of anxiety that may be experienced, by men, or women. Anxiety is generally associated with muscle tension and avoidance behaviors and with therapy may be controlled by avoiding trigger situations, which are simply situations that invoke feelings of fear, trepidation, or remind an individual of the base cause of their specific anxiety.
and is often associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.
To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder the person’s fear, or anxiety, must meet certain criteria, which may include:
to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must be out of all proportion to the current situation, or be age-inappropriate, as well as it must affect the individual’s ability to function in a normal day to day capacity.
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, including a generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, a specific phobia or phobias, agoraphobia (fear of being unable to escape or being confined), and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a persistent and excessive worrying, interfering with daily activities. It is generally accompanied by physical symptoms: restlessness, muscle tension, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, or feeling tired or on edge excessively or inappropriately for no obvious or specific reason.
Panic disorder usually involves recurrent panic attacks, with an almost overwhelming mix of both physical and emotional symptoms, usually presenting as a rapid heart beat, sweating, chest pain, light headed or dizzy feelings, abdominal pain or nausea, as well as the feeling the individual is dying. The severity of these symptoms will often make the person believe they must go to the emergency room, believing they are having a heart attack or other immediate life threatening emergency. Panic disorder will often occur with chronic depression or PTSD.
A specific phobia involves an excessive and recurring fear of a specific idea or object, in a situation or activity that is not actually harmful. These commonly involve things such as flying, heights, snakes, spiders, public speaking, etc. Agoraphobia involves an out of proportion fear to the actual situation and will last six months, or longer, impeding normal day to day life functioning.
Those persons who experience agoraphobia will experience the fear in two, or more, of the following situations: using public transportation, open spaces, enclosed spaces, standing in line, being in a crowd, being alone outside of their own home. Individuals with this disorder will either avoid these situations or will require a companion to be with them at all times during these type situations. This disorder may become so extreme that the person may not leave their home. Diagnosis for this disorder involves the fear of these situations being intensely upsetting, and significantly interfering with daily activities of living.
People who live with social anxiety disorder have severe anxiety or discomfort, often being embarrassed or feeling humiliated, rejected or looked down upon in social interactions. Individuals who experience this disorder will avoid social situations, or only endure them in extreme necessary times, such as funerals. The most common symptoms with this diagnosis are extreme fear of public speaking, or of meeting new people, lasting longer than six months.
Risk factors for anxiety disorders are unknown, as they are believed to involve a varied combination of factors, that include genetics, environmental factors, as well as developmental factors and psychological traumas. The treatment for these disorders include first seeing a doctor to eliminate any possible physical problems that may be causing the underlying symptoms. If anxiety is diagnosed your provider will refer the individual to a mental health professional to discuss further options and the best course of treatment. These may include therapy, medications, or other interventions, such as meditation.
Most individuals who suffer from anxiety never seek treatment or realize they are suffering with an anxiety disorder, which can lead to physical health problems, including undo stress, leading to hypertension, ulcers, as well as fatigue, and increased risk of heart attacks or strokes from stress hormones being activated constantly in the body. Speak with your provider to discuss issues or concerns about problems or symptoms you may be experiencing.
Betty Cohn is a retired registered nurse with 35 years of experience in the medical field in a variety of roles. She will write a semi-monthly column about medical-related topics and welcomes questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.