Origins of Anxiety
Anxiety is a normal part of life. We are hardwired to experience anxiety. If you are unable to be anxious, you would not respond to an emergency appropriately. Consider a child running in to the street or smelling smoke in your home. These situations require quick and deliberate responses.
Researchers believe that our reaction to emergencies is the “fight or flight” response that helped our ancestors to survive while hunting for food. In those days either you captured your food or your food captured you! So becoming alarmed and reacting quickly was and still is essential to human survival. Like it or not anxiety is built in and can be a lifesaver. So why are so many people troubled by anxious feelings and behavior?
Anxiety: From Survival Instinct to Distressing Disorder
The plot thickens. If anxiety is normal, why is anxiety disorders the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem? There are estimates that upwards of 15%-20% of Americans have anxiety disorders. Rapid breathing, heart palpitations, trembling, sweating, fears of losing control; or dying are some of the symptoms of anxiety. These physical symptoms can lead to thoughts of dread and excessive fear. These highly undesirable symptoms, feelings and thoughts can cause distress which disrupts life in many ways.
One way of looking at anxiety problems is a “learning mistake”. We learn to respond to situations which are not life threatening as if these situations threaten our very existence. At some point these distressful responses occur automatically during common daily experiences. What is even more troublesome, anxiety symptoms will intensify and increase in frequency even if our life experiences have not become worse.
The “fear of fear” syndrome drives and increases the frequency and intensity of anxiety. This cycle can lead to avoidance, panic attacks and disabling responses. Anxiety, a relatively normal human emotion becomes stifling. People with anxiety problems are viewed as having a mild to moderate level of psychological disorders even though the anxiety can actually be disabling.
Categories of Common Anxiety Disorders:
The American Psychiatric Association has developed classifications for anxiety disorders. However, because of the complex nature of human emotions the way you experience anxiety may not neatly fit in to these categories. You need not be concerned. The most essential issue is your anxiety can be addressed and become manageable.
Rapid breathing, fast heart beat, sweating and fears of losing control. Attacks occur unexpectedly and spontaneously, can be related to medical condition
Excessive fear of places such as stores, office, crowded areas, buses, cars, hotel rooms, being alone at home, bathrooms and other spaces which become associated anxiety. This disorder may be associated with panic attacks.
Fear of public speaking, fear of blushing in public, fear of being watched, fear of using public toilets, fear of crowds and an ongoing fear of typical social situations. Includes strong concerns of being humiliated in public.
Avoidance and excessive worry related to an object, animal or place. Typical phobias are blood, dirt, heights, doctors/medical tests, needles, cars, airplanes, buses and other common experiences and objects. Discomfort occurs when you are in proximity of the feared object or situation.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Excessive worry about typical daily situations. Feelings of restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and difficulty sleeping. Free floating and recurrent anxiety must be present for a period of six months and not be related to a medical condition.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
Frequent worrying thoughts which are addressed by ritualistic behaviors such as fear of germs resulting in frequent hand washing or fear of leaving doors unlocked followed by frequent and repeated checking of the same door. The ritual or compulsive behavior temporarily relieves the fear, but only for a short time. This disorder is less common then the other types of anxiety, but can be quite disabling.
Acute Stress Disorder:
Similar symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, but last less than a month.
Substance Induced Anxiety Disorder:
Anxiety or panic attacks related to use of street drugs and alcohol. Can also occur when stopping use of a particular medication or undesirable side effect of a medication.
The severity and frequency of symptoms can vary greatly for different individuals. If you sense you have any of the above symptoms it is best to be evaluated by a qualified professional.
Recovery from Anxiety
The good news is that during the last twenty years many effective treatments for anxiety have developed and can be effective. Many of these approaches help you to re-learn healthy ways to respond the conditions which may have caused the anxiety. Physical, emotional and behavioral responses to daily life experiences are reviewed and new ways of reacting are developed.
If you are experiencing anxiety which disrupts your life, it is advisable to be evaluated by qualified professional.
By working together with a therapist who uses anxiety specific treatment techniques you can experience relief and learn to live a healthier and more productive life. It does require some investment in time and effort to resolve an anxiety problem. There may also be a need to make some lifestyle changes. Please note that worrying about your anxiety will not resolve it !
Nevertheless, a significant percentage of individuals seeking treatment do experience relief and learn to live a life which is not hampered by unhealthy anxiety. The choice is yours.
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