Feeling anxious? You are not alone
While there is still some stigma about struggling with mental health issues, the statistics speak for themselves and the resounding reality is that when it comes to anxiety disorders, you are not alone. Around 40 million adults across the US are affected, which is about 18% of the population – nearly one in five of us.
Don’t suffer in silence
Whatever the overarching cause, be it a genetic propensity or life events, and possibly both, the fact is that many of us grapple with some anxiety issues at some point in our lives. This is the time when, rather than suffer in silence, it is worth seeking help. Regardless of how common anxiety disorders are, they are also highly treatable. Yet be it shame, denial or lack of understanding, only around a third of people with this condition receive treatment.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
With no clear cause and a myriad of various definitions, it can be difficult to realize that you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Often, symptoms will manifest not just emotionally or psychologically but physically as well. Feeling anxious when facing a challenging situation is natural in that adrenaline kicks in and your fight or flight response is triggered. However, sometimes certain physical reactions can be a sign that you are experiencing some form of anxiety disorder, such as:
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Numbness in hands and/or feet
- Nausea, headaches and dizziness
- Restlessness and a jittery feeling
- Cold or clammy hands and/or feet
- Muscular tension
- Shakes and twitches
Emotional symptoms of anxiety
Not surprisingly, anxiety disorders can make you feel stressed and create an inner feeling of unease. You may feel a sense of panic or lack of control as well as fear or an unshakeable feeling of dread. You may feel just one or two emotional reactions intensely or a crowding in of psychological symptoms, such as:
- Irritability and a tense feeling of being on edge
- Pessimistic thoughts and negative expectations
- Difficulties focusing and brain-fog
- Over-developed watchfulness for signs of danger
- Emotional numbness
Anxiety disorders affect people in many different ways, to many varying degrees, with a multitude of causes and symptoms. However, there are some clear definitions which have been identified and which can be treated through counseling:
PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which follows a terrible experience such as a serious accident, violence and death of someone close. Rape is the most likely trigger of PTSD and nearly half of all female rape victims, and around 65% of male victims develop PTSD. Childhood traumas such as sexual abuse can also instigate this anxiety disorder, even years later.
OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involves obsessive thoughts from which sufferers can feel there is no escape, as well as ritualistic compulsions which help alleviate some of the anxiety. Examples might include performing a certain ritual before leaving the house, such as counting steps to the door. The condition can be debilitating if at an extreme level, and although there is often an intellectual understanding of the disorder by those afflicted there is a sense of powerlessness to change. In a third of cases, OCD symptoms are experienced starting in childhood.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Affecting over 3% of the population, GAD is a disorder whereby sufferers experience an exaggerated level of anxiety at all times. This might involve worrying excessively over a situation or a forthcoming event where the anxiety outweighs the reality of what could happen. There is often no specific incident to spark anxiety.
Social Phobia: Social Anxiety Disorder affects nearly 7% of the population and yet is a little talked about problem that can leave sufferers feeling overwhelmed and worn out with worry. This anxiety centers on social situations and stress about how others will react to you or whether you will create a social embarrassment. This often results in an avoidance of social situations.
Phobias: In essence, a phobia is an extreme fear of something that is not matched by the reality of the situation. The object of fear can range from an intense anxiety about an understandable fear such as heights to an inability to see or touch an inanimate object such as a balloon. Common phobias include fears of flying, insects, or small spaces.
Panic Attacks: Symptoms often appear as a racing heart and feeling of fear and rising anxiety to the point where sufferers may fear they could die of a heart attack. Panic attacks affect over 6 million people and often the cause is not clear. Through relaxation techniques and a comfortable space to explore the possible triggers, sufferers can conquer their attacks.
Anxiety disorders can leave you feeling confused, afraid and isolated, but there are treatments available to not only deal with the symptoms of anxiety but also the root causes too. If you feel you may be suffering from one of these disorders or just excessive anxiety, therapy can help.
Written by Kara Thompson-Miller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: January 2023 “Why is it so hard to like my body?”: A unassumingly complex question that has been asked by many clients in many different variations, but one that, nonetheless, tends…Read More
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