In America today, most adults have spoken to someone, or personally experienced/suffered anxiety and anxiety related symptoms, or even panic attacks. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion, and a lack of information on the subject, so I thought I would take a moment to write a brief article about anxiety, what it is, and what to do with it.
So what is Anxiety?
I would define anxiety simply as this: a fear and expectation of a thing. Anxiety is also a normal emotional/physical state within the human body. So one might wonder, how does it get so bothersome that folks have to go see a therapist, or even a psychiatrist for medication to treat the issue? The short explanation is that there is no short explanation.
Anxiety, again, is a normal emotional state. If you have fear of something happening, such as you fear that your spouse is going to find out you spent too much money on some frivolous item, the thing you are feeling is anxiety. Soldiers that are going into a quiet place, looking for the enemy, or are waiting for the enemy, typically feel some level of anxiety. If you have to give a speech and have a fear of public speaking, you are experiencing anxiety. Anxiety is a safety mechanism; part of that whole fight-flight response you’ve heard about. Fear makes us want to stay and fight, or run and hide to protect ourselves.
Unfortunately, we sometimes let our anxieties go unchecked.
On occasion, we develop incorrect beliefs about things, and if you believe one thing or another about something that doesn’t quite match with reality, or you blow things out of proportion, then your anxiety level may get to really bothersome levels. Then there’s panic attacks.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an anxiety response that for most folks, seems to come from nowhere. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, racing heart, raised/lowered blood pressure, cold sweaty hands, fainting, blurred or narrowed vision, and nausea, just to name a few. These symptoms can also look/feel like a heart attack, which isn’t uncommon.
What happens is that the unchecked and not dealt with anxiety gets out of hand, and our anxiety becomes generalized. Patients frequently report things such as they exercise and their heart rate goes up, and because their anxiety previously caused their heart rate to repeatedly go up, their minds/bodies generalize the stimulus(racing heart), and produce a panic attack(an extreme form of fear/anxiety response). It isn’t limited to heart rate though. A stimulus for this condition can literally be anything, from a color to a smell, or even a sound or texture. It makes treating the anxiety tricky…but not impossible.
Myths about anxiety/panic attacks
1. I was born this way. Sorry, but thus far, there is no genetic link between anxiety and one’s genetic makeup. Patterns in families occur, and there is some predisposition that might make a person lean a little towards being an anxious person, but nothing that makes you anxious.
2. There is no cure or help for me. Actually, between medication and psychotherapy, which is in fact the best case scenario treatment for all mental health issues, anxiety disorders have a fairly good prognosis in treatment. Typically, there is a lot of work to be done on oneself to alleviate the issue, but I have seen it done time and time again.
3. I’m a weak person because I have this problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. You would be shocked if you knew how many people, and who, suffered from anxiety related disorders. It doesn’t make you a weak or inferior person.
If you think you might have anxiety, drop me an email and we can explore the issue. Hopefully this has been informative/useful, and remember, if you don’t look at what is going on with yourself, it will be difficult to get better!
David P. Robbins
Check out this pdf article from the National Institute of Health for more information on anxiety.