Understanding your difference
Anxiety Disorders are common in our modern societies. Up to 25% of adults will have an anxiety disorder sometime in their life. 10% of the population will experience an anxiety disorder this year. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in women, and second most common in men. Living with an anxiety disorder makes it is difficult to manage daily tasks, let alone personal finances, work or study. Normal social life is also hampered causing isolation when support is needed.
Anxiety is a normal response to stress, the unknown or a situation we experience as a threat or danger. Our body’s response helps us deal with tense situations in life. Anxiety helps us keep our focus on the immediate priority and makes it possible for us to cope. Everyone feels anxiety at some stage in their lives. Most of us experience everyday bouts of anxiety, such as a job interview or being late for an important meeting. These are relatively mild and pass quickly.
For an acute problem and in an emergency, this is a healthy reaction.
A person with Anxiety Disorder on the other hand experiences the anxiety intensely, frequently and for a longer time, sometimes for days on end. This can become an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations. When that happens it has become a disabling disorder.
The “fight or flight” response is triggered. We breathe faster to get the oxygen needed for dealing with the threat. Our hearts beat faster to carry that extra oxygen to brain and muscle. Our mouth becomes dry and we feel the nerves in our stomachs. The amygdala, a small organ in our brain, triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline that makes us more alert and able to react quicker.
This was a healthy, vital and welcomed response when our great-great-grandparent met a wolf pack, tiger or lion. When the threat passed, our great-great-grandparent’s body wound down to normal again.
In our modern complex society we unfortunately often find ourselves in situations we cannot fight or run away from. When this happens our amygdala is on all the time. Instead of winding down we remain in a heightened sensitive state. Now harmless situations that we would normally hardly notice, set our “fight or flight” responses on alert.
This can lead to a constant feeling of unease. Normally a situation would trigger this feeling. So when a person feels the unease, even when there is no danger, the natural subconscious response is to try to find a cause. The feeling obviously must have a cause. This can lead to an anxiety attack, also called a panic attack. Anything can set off a panic attack at this point.
For an outsider this may appear irrational, but for the person experiencing the panic attack it is real and serious. The fact is that it is very serious.
After the panic attack there is the fear of another panic attack in a place where the person does not feel safe, such as in a supermarket or at a social event. There is also the fear of making a fool of oneself. At this point there is a risk that instead of a fear of something, there is now a fear of the fear itself.
Anxiety is based on a perceived present danger and a future threat. Anxiety cannot be fully understood apart from strong emotions. The experience of a panic attack is a traumatic experience, physically and mentally. The physical feelings are paralysing. In the fight or flight situation the body is primed to respond quickly. In anxiety, the body and mind are so worn down and exhausted by the constant tension, that the panic attack has the opposite effect to the fight or flight response. The body closes down.
Anxiety often becomes a vicious circle where symptoms, thoughts and behaviour keeps the anxiety going. It starts to become a problem when the symptoms are:
- Causing us to worry that there is something seriously wrong
- Stopping us doing what we enjoy doing
- Becomes severe and unpleasant
- Goes on too long
- Happens too often;
Types of Anxiety Disorders
All anxiety disorders have excessive dread and irrational fear at their base. There are a number of anxiety disorders with an overlap of symptoms:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia.
- Panic Attack
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Anxiety can strike anyone. Once intense anxiety becomes the normal state for that person, and that person is unabile to perform everyday tasks, then competent professional help is needed. Theearlir the better. A person suffering from anxiety needs an understanding family and work colleagues to support and encourage them through the therapy.