Do You Suffer From An Anxiety Disorder? Look For These Signs
According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 2.6 billion people in the world, or more than one-third of the global population, will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Among those who suffer, their experiences can range from everyday compulsive worrying to full-blown panic attacks.
Understanding anxiety as our body’s natural “fight or flight” defense system gone awry, is one of the keys to managing it. Just because it’s a negative feeling, doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad. Anxiety serves a very important purpose – to warn us that something is wrong.
Fortunately, anxiety is treatable and can be controlled. If you think you may have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, you should seek the help of a mental health professional.
How And Why Anxiety Happens
Anxiety manifests in the amygdala, and to a lesser extent, the cerebral cortex. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions such as anger, fear, envy, and guilt, and usually does its job quite efficiently. In fact, you can feel fear with 20 milliseconds after being exposed to a scary or threatening stimulus.
The message is then transmitted to the cerebral cortex to determine if the stimulus is truly dangerous. Here, the potential threat is analyzed, and a response is issued, or the amygdala’s warning system is shut down – ideally.
Unfortunately, sometimes the cerebral cortex can be stumped trying to identify actual risks from inflated ones.
For example, some people develop deep fears of things that aren’t a threat such as certain animals, places, events, and even other people. Others excessively worry over money, jobs, the safety of family, and other life factors that do not always warrant such concern.
Anxiety Disorders And How To Identify One
The most oft-recognized anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia (fear of open or public places) and other types of phobias.
Consider this: arachnophobia is the most common phobia, but reality, the majority of spiders are not even remotely dangerous.
If you are experiencing any of the following conditions, you may have an anxiety disorder.
You Suffer From Extreme Distress
Much of the time anxiety, as noted above, is healthy to a large degree. For example, being nervous before a first date is well within the realm of a normal reaction. But if you are consumed by this nervousness to the point of canceling the date, this clearly demonstrates a high level of distress associated with the prospect of meeting someone for the first time.
For some, anxiety can lead to panic attacks, which is a tremendous amount of anxiety that envelopes the individual and manifests itself quickly and intensely in the form of an extreme mental, emotional, and physical reaction. Symptoms may include dizziness, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, depersonalization, and the intense fear of losing control or even dying.
On a personal note, I have experienced a number of panic attacks myself, to the point that I was positive I was going to die and ended up in the emergency room. Make no mistake – it is an entirely terrifying and visceral feeling that can be extremely difficult to shake.
Anxiety and panic attacks can quickly become associated with certain situations and places. For example, in my case, my attacks began after a gastrointestinal problem that led to near-constant indigestion.
This somehow resulted in my erroneous belief that I was having a heart attack on several occasions. Even now, when I get indigestion, sometimes I have to talk myself down out of panic mode.
You see, the brain is always learning, but the brain can learn the wrong things, and anxiety can become ingrained as a response to otherwise normal, everyday stimuli.
You Avoid People, Places, Things Due To Fear
Naturally, we are going to avoid things that we correctly perceive as a threat. For this reason, some people refuse to go on a roller coaster or cave-dive because these actions may be perceived as dangerous. When you begin regularly avoiding “normal” things, however, and it is affecting your life negatively, this is when you may have developed a problem.
An example would be avoiding going to a dentist for years at a time. Being nervous before a dentist appointment would be pretty normal, but allowing your teeth to deteriorate due to this fear, however, is maladaptive.
Your Anxiety Negatively Affects Everyday Life
Anxiety can greatly restrict a sufferer’s movements and basic life functions. People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders, for example, may spend hours cleaning, exercising, or arranging items. Social anxiety can result in isolation from family and friends. In other words, anxiety becomes a disorder when it is impeding a person’s ability to perform the daily tasks of life.
Consistent, severe anxiety can also manifest itself physically in headaches, insomnia, and other ailments, which in turn will likely make anxiety worse.
Treatments For Anxiety
The good news, anxiety can be controlled by specialized care and treatments such as antidepressants which can take the edge off the worries. Also, psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy have been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety in many people – as are holistic practices such as yoga, meditation, healthy eating, and exercise.
For phobias, slow, gradual exposure to the feared stimuli can help retrain the brain to react less aggressively, especially when used in conjunction with breathing techniques and mindfulness.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology