Anxiety is not necessarily a negative emotion. Small levels of anxiety help us react in appropriately to life events. Anxiety over future events may enable us to take needed precautionary measures and avoid distress. However, when anxiety is produced too often and in large amounts, life can become very unpleasant.
The National Institute of Health (NIMH) tells us that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by worrying about everyday things in an excessive, persistent and unrealistic manner. Unhealthy anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming and lead to restlessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, body tension and pains, irritability, and sleep problems.When anxiety has reached unhealthy levels, worrisome thoughts will eventually crowd out reality, and panic can set in.1
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.
Anxiety disordersare mental health conditions, not personality flaws. In fact, one is often able to tell that their anxiety level is higher than it ought to be for a given situation, but their anxiety condition does not allow them to calm down effectively.
Anxiety disorders usually appear early in life, and may be connected to brain development. Anxiety disorders are often physiological in nature, and promising new treatments and counseling approaches have been developed in recent years. Risk factors are statistically doubly as high for women as they are for men.2
The following are common signs associated with anxiety disorders:
- 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
- Panic attacks
- Physical illness brought on by chronic stress
Mild anxiety can usually be managed on a personal level. 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 over 8.3 million adults in the U.S. suffer 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. More recently, effects from the Great Recession in the early 2000s led to increased anxiety for all citizens.3
Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Other Types of Anxiety
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 occurs when normal desires to function socially result in overwhelming fear and distress.
Social anxiety is marked by a great fear of talking to others despite 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.4
Sometimes medication is necessary for the treatment of 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 can provide specific skills and understanding for healthy mental recuperation.
Benzodiazepine prescriptions may treat anxiety temporarily, but they are also known to be very addictive when not used exactly as prescribed. For this reason, benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax, or Klonopin are 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. It is a good idea to ask your doctor about alternatives to benzodiazepine medications.
Some people recover best from anxiety disorder with counseling and therapy, while others benefit from a combination of medication, physical treatment, and counseling. 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 Disorders.” The National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed 1 July 2017.
2 “Anxiety and Physical Illness.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch. 6 June 2017. Accessed 1 July 2017.
3 Thompson, D. “More Americans Suffering from Stress, Anxiety and Depression.” CBS News. 17 April 2017. Accessed 1 July 2017.
4 Reinberg, S. “15 Million Americans Suffer From Social Anxiety Disorder.” Healthday.com. 10 April 2017. Accessed 1 July 2017.