According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental disorders diagnosed in the U.S. Almost one-third of all people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime. Because anxiety disorders are so prevalent, most people fail to understand them and how they are very different from simply experiencing temporary fear or nervousness.
Being nervous about an upcoming event and having an anxiety disorder are not the same thing. You might experience nervousness before a first date or meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time. But you still go. Maybe there’s an upcoming interview for your dream job and you can’t sleep the night before. But you still go. If you’re a parent, you might experience nervousness for your child’s first day of school or watching them participate in a sporting event… But you still go. The nervousness does not generally prevent your participation in the event.
The Fight-Or-Flight Response
We all feel nervousness at some point in our lives… But what does that really mean? For some, it’s a “butterflies in your stomach” feeling. The sweaty palms and heightened breathing. Inside your body, adrenaline pumps into your system. Your heart rate increases as your body supplies additional oxygen and nutrients throughout. These physical changes are recognized as the fight-or-flight response… which literally means just that. Your body is preparing to either fight through a perceived danger… or run away from it as fast as possible.
Fortunately, we humans don’t have to fight saber-toothed tigers anymore. That would surely make you nervous! But we still perceive certain situations and events as frightful, which induces nervousness and the associated fight-or-flight response.
Anxiety Disorders Described
The reason anxiety and nervousness are sometimes confused is because anxiety starts with almost the same stimuli: Fear. However, a person with an anxiety disorder experiences fear differently. It’s almost crippling. In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear must first be disproportionate to the perceived event, situation or person’s age. Second, the fear is so strong that it prevents a person from functioning normally.
What does this mean? There is a significant difference between healthy fear and a fear that rises to the level of anxiety. For instance, a healthy fear of spiders and/or snakes is perfectly reasonable. So, if you happen to have a snake cross your path while out walking, turning around is perfectly fine. However, being overcome with fear to the point that you are physically unable to move—or hyperventilating—is a sign of an anxiety disorder.
To take it a step further… If you refuse to go outside because you fear running into a spider, that’s a classic symptom of arachnophobia. This is disproportionate and prevents normal activity.
Anxiety Disorders: Symptoms
The symptoms of anxiety disorders may include one or more of the following:
- minor or severe headaches
- odd sensations in your body
- feelings of numbness
- body aches or pain
- shaking or trembling
- trouble concentrating
- increased heart rate
- chest tightness
- tiredness or fatigue
- stomach aches
The symptoms of anxiety disorders are generally more enhanced than mere nervousness. They may also last a longer time… Sometimes people can experience symptoms days before an expected event—and even for days afterward. People with anxiety disorders have difficulties going on dates or interacting with other people. They also generally try to avoid situations that may trigger their symptoms, such as taking a test.
Anxiety Disorders: Treatments
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, test anxiety, panic disorder and phobias, such as claustrophobia.
Anxiety disorders negatively affect a person’s work, education and personal relationships (i.e. family, spouse and friends). But there are a number of treatment options available. The treatments vary because every anxiety disorder—and the person diagnosed—is unique. Doctors may use either psychotherapy or medication to help alleviate the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. In many cases, the first step is talking to a professional about what is happening and then seeking a course of treatment. For most people, it is possible to live life comfortably while managing—and eventually overcoming—anxiety disorders.
How We Can Help You
Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help: