Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes: those moments when you feel worried, nervous, anxious…
Unfortunately, some people experience anxiety that is so intense and constant that it interferes with their ability to function.
What is anxiety?
The human body has natural, physical responses to danger or fear – hormones like adrenaline and cortisone are released into the blood stream, the heart races and breathing becomes quicker, muscles tense, your senses may become more alert. This is actually a healthy response to a physical threat – it prepares your body to defend itself or to run away.
Sometimes, though, people experience these same symptoms when there is no direct physical threat: this is anxiety. If the symptoms are mild and they^re in response to some real worry, your anxiety level is probably fairly normal. But, if you have severe or long-lasting symptoms, or if your anxiety is not related to any real problem, you may have a clinical disorder that can be quite serious. As many as 19 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. They include:
- Generalized anxiety — a vague, general feeling of worry, apprehension, uneasiness, and/or “stress” which may last for months at a time. Unexplainable feeling of impending doom. This disorder is more common in women than in men and often appears for the first time when people are teenagers.
- Panic attacks — when people have sudden, extreme fear and tension with no obvious cause. Physical symptoms (breathlessness, heart palpitations, etc.) are usually very severe.
- Phobias — the inexplicable fear of certain situations or specific things: agoraphobia, for instance, is the fear of public spaces, sometimes so severe that it prevents sufferers from leaving their homes; arachnephobia is an intense fear of spiders. There are many, many types of phobias. Think of something: someone probably has a phobia about it.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder — where people have compulsive counting rituals or repetitive behaviors (like checking to see that the door is locked twenty times whenever they leave the house) and/or constant, irrational fears about things like hygiene.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — anxiety that lasts for a long time after a traumatic event, often resulting in nightmares, flashbacks and/or mistrust of others.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:
- Racing heartbeat.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Muscle tension.
- Stomach discomfort, including diarrhea.
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty “catching your breath.”
- Dry mouth.
- Loss of appetite or excessive appetite.
- Not wanting to leave the house or interact with people.
- Suddenly feeling like you are “about to die.”
- Worrying all the time.
- Experiencing fear that seems out of whack.
There are many different levels of anxiety disorder, many causes and many treatments. If you are suffering with anxiety, you should definitely see your healthcare provider. There IS help available.
Both counseling and prescription medication have proven to be useful for people with anxiety. You may be able to get help from your regular health care provider, or they may refer you to a mental health specialist (a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist).
It may be that your symptoms are related to specific, stressful circumstances in your life; if this the case, you may be able to get help to eliminate certain problems and stresses that are causing you anxiety.
What will not work is self-medicating your anxiety with alcohol or other drugs (many people try this). These drugs may temporarily numb your symptoms, but they will only delay treating the true problem, and they will cause you more difficulty in the long run.