I recently had the opportunity to share a few articles here on anger and how this affects us. It is my pleasure to now begin writing a bit about anxiety and how this, too, is a major issue for many of us. In fact, anxiety disorders are being seen more and more across the ages. For example, I see more children these days—no kidding—worrying how they will do on school/state-wide testing and other children overwhelmed with their family’s separation or divorce. Then there are all of us adults overwhelmed with the economy, job, and housing issues and not feeling a positive sense of control over our lives.
I believe that, at any given point in time, millions of us are plagued with stress and anxiety. Now, what is unfortunate is the reality that many people do not want to acknowledge their struggles and reach out for help (and come to counseling, for example) until things reach an overwhelming level. It never ceases to amaze me how many people go to the hospital complaining of some type of physical ailment, and yet the doctors cannot find anything physically wrong. The diagnosis that tends to come up is anxiety, which can affect the mind and body in powerful ways.
The fact is that stress and anxiety can occupy so much within us and debilitate us if we allow this to happen. Anxiety is a more impactful issue than stress, and it can be too easy to use the words stress and anxiety as the same thing. However, I would like to outline the difference. According to the National Institutes of Health, stress is the result of feeling frustrated, while anxiety makes you feel uneasy and fearful, usually because of a combination of stressors or a long-term stressor. Excessive stress can turn into an anxiety disorder, and the symptoms may interfere with your life and require the attention of a doctor.
One of these anxiety-related issues that does indeed lead to contact with one’s doctor or the emergency room is panic disorder. The effects of anxiety in the body can mimic a heart attack, with symptoms such as heart palpitations, feeling like you are not able to catch your breath, nausea, headaches, stomach pain, and even chest pain. The dread of a potential heart attack may cause even further anxiety, making those moments even more scary. Sometimes these attacks can be so severe, the person experiencing this level of anxiety does not want to leave home. This type of anxiety is classified as agoraphobia.
Over the next few articles, I will examine some of the other specific forms of anxiety disorders; these may range from something perhaps more “mild,” like an adjustment disorder with anxiety, to others such as a social phobia (excessive worry about how others will view us, resulting in avoidance of performance or social interactions), a specific phobia (fear of spiders, flying, receiving an injection, and so forth), posttraumatic stress disorder (many of us have heard of this; it involves personally experiencing or even witnessing a traumatic event in which we later re-experience the trauma in a variety of negative ways), generalized anxiety disorder (the anxiety is not necessarily related to a specific issue but rather a number of areas in someone’s life they worry excessively about), as well as others, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, which many may not even realize is an anxiety-related disorder.
Now, sometimes, a little bit of information can be a terrible thing, meaning my hope is that you do not read my brief introduction to these anxiety disorders and fear you have one or more of them. Rather, my hope is to first educate and explore how anxiety may be affecting us. Furthermore, my intention is to look at some general issues we tend to struggle with and offer some help. Although I will not be offering actual therapy in this column, I would like to offer some tools and techniques to best address the anxiety. I hope to help.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, therapist in Chino, California
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