Anxiety is not a negative sensation all in itself. Increase of heart rate and the resultant back-and-forth balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is a natural reaction that produces motivation and causes us to react in an appropriate way to life events. Anxiety over situations that have not yet come about can be a sign of shrewdness that lead us to take precautionary measures and avoid disastrous results. However, when anxiety is produced in an out-of-balance degree, life can become very unpleasant.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America tells us that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by worrying about everyday things in an excessive, persistent and unrealistic manner.1 Even enduring through one day at a time can feel extremely overwhelming for anxiety sufferers. By fearing the worst with no discernibly legitimate reason for doing so, worrisome thoughts will eventually crowd out reality, and panic can set in.
These everyday worries can involve family, health, work, social interactions, and concerns about obtaining life’s necessities. While it would be a sign of poor mental health to never show any concern for these matters, those who suffer from anxiety often take concern to detrimental levels.
But remember- anxiety disorder is a mental health condition, not a personality flaw. In fact, often one is able to tell that their anxiety level is higher than it ought to be for a given situation, but for reason of their anxiety condition, they are not able to calm it down.
Younger people seem to be generally more given to the development of anxiety disorder, as it typically settles upon a person before becoming middle-aged. Risk factors are statistically doubly as high for women as they are for men.
The following are signs that anxiety disorder may be affecting your life:
- Panic and fear
- Worry about things that have not happened
- Worry about things that could have happened even after a situation has been handled
- Inability to fall or stay asleep
- Feelings of numbness
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
Mild anxiety can usually be managed on a personal level while still managing to function in regular daily activity. However, bouts of extreme anxiety can come up suddenly and without warning. With no apparent reason for concern, a small issue might cause a large emotional reaction, producing extreme fear and distress.
The reasons for the development of anxiety disorders are varied. Currently it is estimated that a little over 3% of the American population suffers from a severe anxiety disorder. The causes are in some cases genetic, biological, or resulting from a traumatic or otherwise very stressful and negative experience. Abuse in childhood, even in forms that seem minor, such as bullying in school, can have a very lasting effect on the ability to keep anxiety under control in adulthood.
Other common anxiety disorders besides GAD include panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Again, each of these disorders touch on a natural emotional or physical reaction that can come to be highly exaggerated to the point of suffering. For example, social anxiety disorder. The normal concern is that we care about the feelings of others and their opinion of us. Signs and symptoms of this disorder carry the perception of others opinions to unrealistic heights.
Social anxiety is marked by a great fear of talking to others even amidst the desire to do so. Feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness are common, as are feelings of being judged and criticized. Fifteen million Americans are considered to suffer from this condition, which does not generally affect women more than men, as GAD does.
Puberty is usually accompanied by a new state of heightened self-awareness that can produce symptoms similar to social anxiety disorder. When these symptoms persist for more than six months, it is good to get some professional counseling. If this is not done, harmful thought patterns can lead to a lifetime of self-condemnation to social anxiety.2
Sometimes medication is necessary for the treatment of social anxiety. Antidepressants (which are used to treat depression that often accompanies anxiety disorders) and anti-anxiety medications are most commonly prescribed in these cases. Quite often, though, psychotherapy will provide the social skills and understanding needed for a healthy mental recuperation. Anti-anxiety prescriptions are known to be very addictive when not used exactly as prescribed. For this reason medication is generally not the first option of treatment that a medical professional will pursue for this condition. If they are prescribed, the person taking the treatment needs to be monitored very closely.
Some people recover best from anxiety disorder with counseling and therapy, while others benefit from medication. Most of the time, an individualized treatment plan is necessary to find a balance between the two. The good news is that with the right help, life is always manageable- even quite enjoyable, despite the problems and difficulties that may come with it. Anxiety can be overcome!
1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved online 1/26/16 at http://www.adaa.org/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.
2. National Institute of Mental Health. Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder.) Retrieved online 1/26/16 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder/index.shtml.