Anxiety is, without a doubt, the most common mental health issue that plagues 42.5 million Americans over the age of 18. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), this is roughly 21% of the nation’s population. In addition to these sobering statistics, only 2 out of 3 people end up seeking help for their disorder. There’s a common misconception that anxiety disorders are typically a singular disorder; however, anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions that can look very different from person to person. But despite their different forms, ALL anxiety disorders share one major symptom: a persistent and severe fear or worry in situations where most people normally wouldn’t feel threatened or fearful at all. Anxiety disorders affect how we feel, how we think, and how we behave. They also affect how we interact (or do not interact) with others. They also have the capability to manifest into physical ailments that interfere with our daily activities and responsibilities. While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, anxiety disorders involve much more than temporary worry or fear. Here’s a list of a few facts regarding anxiety disorders:
Fact #1: It’s normal to worry or feel anxious sometimes.
Fact #2: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.
Fact #3: There are many different types of anxiety disorders.
Fact #4: Women have double the risk for anxiety disorders than men do.
Fact #5: Anxiety disorders are often accompanied by other related disorders.
Fact #6: Anxiety can cause or exacerbate physical illnesses.
Fact #7: Anxiety is believed to be hereditary.
Fact #8: Anxiety can be managed and effectively treated.
So, how can you tell if your anxiety has crossed the line into a disorder? It’s not always easy. Unfortunately, the distinction between an official diagnosis and “normal” anxiety isn’t always clear. Anxiety is a mental, emotional, and physical condition with the most common symptoms being nervousness, sweating, fear, and rapid heartbeat. But these are not the only symptoms of anxiety. Indeed, they are nowhere close. The list of symptoms associated with anxiety can surprise even doctors and is responsible for millions of dollars in wasted medical testing.
Anxiety is sometimes called “The Great Imitator”, due to its ability to mimic other health conditions. Anxiety changes the way you think. It alters your hormone levels and how you process nutrients. Anxiety also changes your perception and awareness, so that you notice physical sensations that someone without anxiety would never notice. Anxiety can even “create” symptoms that are not there at all. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, you may want to talk with your doctor:
*Excessive worry (persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week)
*Sleep problems (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
*Self-consciousness (blushing, trembling, nausea, sweating, or difficulty talking)
*Panic (a sudden gripping feeling of fear and helplessness)
*Flashbacks (reliving a disturbing or traumatic event)
*Perfectionism (constantly judging yourself, or anxiety about making mistakes)
*Self-doubt (second-guessing yourself or turning a question into an obsession)
This is a very general list and should not be used as a diagnostic tool. The best way to determine if your anxiety is considered a typical case of the “butterflies” or it warrants further action is to discuss it with your physician or a mental health professional. If it’s determined that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, then the first step to dealing with that is to understand it. The more you understand what causes your symptoms, what they mean, why you struggle with them, and what you can do to stop them, the more you’ll be able to start making real progress in successfully dealing with your anxiety and its symptoms. In our next discussion, we’ll look at the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders, and the symptoms they can produce.