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Understanding Anxiety.

Living with an anxiety disorder is an awful condition – the symptoms, though unique to each kind of disorder – can interfere with creating and maintaining personal relationships, seeking and earning professional success, and in some cases, can even be physically debilitating.

To make matters worse, there is often a cultural stigma surrounding mental disorder (especially anxiety).  Many people don’t understand how anxiety disorders work, or how they affect those who suffer from them.

Worse, there are voices in our society that insist that anxiety disorders and other disorders of the executive function of the brain, including depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, don’t even exist.

It is long past time for the world to realize that mental illness is every bit as real as physical illness.  If a person fell and broke their arm, no one in their right mind would tell them to “suck it up” and avoid getting it treated, or tell them that the pain was “all in their head.”

Our culture is changing as awareness rises concerning the drastic effects of afflictions such as anxiety disorders, but there are still far too many people suffering in silence, often because they don’t understand that they have a medically treatable disorder, or they are afraid to speak up and get the help they need.

Understanding Anxiety.In an effort to help people understand the very real toll that anxiety disorders take on people’s lives every day, here is a guide to some of the most prevalent anxiety disorders that people suffer from, and their common symptoms:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. By some measures, some form of generalized anxiety disorder affects tens of millions of Americans every day.  It is far and away the most common.  Of course, anxiety is a normal human condition, especially in anticipation of a stressful event.  The day before a big presentation or in the minutes leading up to a decision with a lot riding on it can – and should – cause us to feel jittery, nervous and maybe even a little sick to our stomachs.  Someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, on the other hand, feel this way far more often than those without the affliction, and often have extreme anxiety over events they have no control over.  Thoughts and images of potential negative outcomes or worst-case scenarios fill their mind whenever they have a quiet moment – or worse, take their focus away from important tasks that are at hand, such as attending to a personal relationship or a job to do at work.  People with general anxiety disorder often report that they feel a constant state of dread, because their mind won’t stop settling on thoughts of how things could possibly go wrong.  One important indicator that a person may have generalized anxiety disorder is if the source of their anxiety – an important, fast-approaching event, unstable financial or emotional situation or other factor that would make anyone nervous – becomes resolved, and the person continues to feel dread and anxiety.
  2. Social Anxiety DisorderThis is a more specific anxiety disorder that pertains to social situations.  People suffering from social anxiety disorder may feel an extraordinary amount of dread not just about having to be in a crowd of large people, but may even become nervous over simple, intimate conversations with friends and family.  In social situations ranging from a whispered conversation to addressing a group of other people, those suffering from this form of the disorder may find that they blush, stammer or sweat out of nervousness.  Social anxiety disorder can drastically affect the quality of a person’s life, because it can cause a sufferer to go to great lengths to avoid interaction with other people; since social contact and meaningful relationships are basic human needs, they are not fulfilling necessary functions, and this can lead to depression, compulsion and other forms of mental illness.
  3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Often dramatized in the media, obsessive-compulsive disorder is actually an anxiety disorder that usually manifests in symptoms involving complicated or seemingly irrational ritualistic behavior.  For instance, a person may be consumed with overwhelming anxiety at the thought of becoming sick from infections germs, and may feel the need to compulsively wash their hands until their skin is raw, or use a new bar of soap every time they wash to prevent older germs from re-infecting them.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a powerful negative influence on a person’s ability to create and maintain relationships, or perform their everyday life functions without feeling extraordinary anxiety.

There are many other forms of anxiety disorders, including one that has seen a lot of attention lately – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  There is some good news, though.  Most people who suffer from these afflictions respond well to counseling and other treatments, and with time and the help of medical and psychiatric professionals, they can learn to take control of their symptoms – and their lives – once again.

Gabe Coeli has studied anxiety and anxiety disorders extensively and hopes that his writing can help bring more legitimacy to the disorder and erase some of the assumptions and stigmas out there. He works out of Seattle.

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