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Why Worry? - Part 2
Posted: 10/21/2011 | Personal Development Comments
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In the blog Why Worry? we looked at anxiety generally, and how it is a reaction to our perception of a difficult or stressful situation. We discovered anxiety is really degrees of fear, our own alarm system triggered when body and mind perceive a threat.
In addition to fear, the word anxiety is also referred to as angst, dread or worry. It’s a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, behavioral, emotional and cognitive elements. Interestingly, the root meaning of “anxiety” is “to vex or trouble.”
Everyone experiences small levels of anxiety that can prompt us to take action when necessary. But when the occasional angst becomes a constant, crippling experience that interferes with functioning at work, in relationships and with daily tasks it might be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. Forty million American adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder yearly, and many more are undiagnosed. We’ll look at the diagnosed anxiety disorders and touch on the acceptable behaviors that often cover up anxiety, fear and other feelings.
What is an anxiety disorder? Generally it’s considered excessive and debilitating worry or fear. According to the National Institute of Mental Health it can affect us at nearly any age. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV) identifies twelve different anxiety disorders. The main themes are:   Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Specific Phobias, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder, and anxiety due to general medical conditions.
Let’s look at the three most common anxiety disorders: Social Phobia, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 
Social phobia is considered the fear of social situations. People afflicted with this disorder worry about the judgments and evaluation of others, sometimes to the point of withdrawing or isolating from others and avoiding social interaction altogether. It can be triggered by everyday occurrences like speaking or even eating in public, having to perform a task while someone is watching, or meeting new people. People feel so self-conscious they can experience nausea, blushing, trembling, sweating profusely or difficulty with speaking.
Social phobia (or social anxiety) can cause debilitating isolation and loneliness. Like many people with chronic anxiety they can turn to addictions to cover the intense feelings, using drugs and alcohol in an attempt to alleviate emotional discomfort and create a pseudo confidence. On a deeper level, they usually have intense feelings of shame from childhood and other historical issues that accompany the diagnosis.
The second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder is PTSD. According to the DSM IV, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event resulting in “intense fear, helplessness or horror.” This is a broad category, but can include (and certainly isn’t limited to) military combat, a natural disaster, personal or sexual assault, or a serious accident. PTSD can also be caused by receiving shocking news of a death or illness of a loved one, or seeing someone die unexpectedly. It can also result from abuse and mistreatment in childhood.
People with PTSD commonly have recurring dreams, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and feelings or recollections of the event, as if they are re-experiencing the trauma repeatedly. The afflicted person will often try to avoid thinking about the event or being reminded of it. PTSD can interfere with basic functioning like sleeping and eating, as well as work and family relationships. They might also have an exaggerated startle response.
As with all things related to the psyche there are more subtle levels of PTSD. Studies show that repeatedly watching the falling of the twin towers on 9/11 traumatized television viewers. Of course, the people who were at the towers suffer from PTSD, as well as many of theose who were first responders. Firefighters, police, FBI, nurses, doctors and clergy are often involved in very intense situations and are susceptible to PTSD.
Not only are many with shock trauma who’ve experienced a horrifying event dealing with PTSD, but those who had very difficult childhoods with repeated strain trauma suffer also. Growing up in an abusive environment creates a level of insecurity and emotional instability that causes the child to feel in constant danger and fear. Holocaust survivors and their children, children in war-torn areas, children of alcoholics and other dysfunctions, children who’ve been abandoned or neglected can all experience symptoms of PTSD.
The third most common anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It’s characterized by excessive, debilitating worry and anxiety about a variety of events or circumstances over at least a six month period, along with difficulty managing this anxiety. You might have trouble letting go of the worry even when there’s nothing to do about it, or you might be unable to relax. The DSM IV suggests that 3 out of the following symptoms point to GAD, if not caused by another mental disorder: 
  1. Feeling wound up, tense or restless
  2. Feeling easily fatigued or worn out
  3. Trouble concentrating
  4. Irritability
  5. Muscle tension
  6. Difficulty with sleep.
 You can also have insomnia, restlessness, distorted cognitive processes, poor concentration, and/or unrealistic assessment of problems. To be diagnosed with GAD by a professional these symptoms must be considered to cause, “clinically significant distress.”   
Some people appear as if they are functioning highly and some will not. As I said before, there are degrees of struggle with anxiety. Many of us who haven’t been diagnosed can still benefit from self-examination. Many of us mask our feelings, especially fear, with both hard and soft addictions so we don’t feel so much. Drinking excessively, smoking, drug use and eating disorders all alter our mood and help us to numb out. 
More acceptable and common ways of avoiding the uncomfortable feelings that are fueled by our anxiety include: over exercising and working too much, compulsive cleaning, and more recently excessive computer activity, texting and constant cell phone use. These can be covering many difficult feelings, including the fear of being alone. 
There are many types of treatment for anxiety and anxiety disorders, both conventional and more subtle types, and I’ll explore this thoroughly in the next blog. Remember that your doctor, health care practitioner or psychotherapist can help determine the best course of action to have you functioning in life.
If you think you have an anxiety disorder, remember: there is hope! You’re not alone. Most of us have fear to examine. As with all of us on this path of personal development, by investing time, opening to self-examination and getting good support, you really can feel peaceful, joyful and stress-free. You’ll soon be on the road to a happier, healthier life!
Do you find yourself anxious much? Do you choose behaviors that  numb out or mask your emotions and anxiety? Have you been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? If so, what was the best course of action for you? What did you learn from your experience? Your comments make a difference for all of us.


Carri       Posted: 11/9/2011 12:13:37 AM

I was diagnosed with GAD about 13 years ago and I also suffered from Antenatal and Postpartum depression.
There was a time when my anxiety was crippling but now that I have a handle on my medication, I''ve been doing much better. I''m also aware of my triggers and do what I can to avoid them.
If I can''t avoid my triggers, I really concentrate on not letting them get the best of me. When I am able to remove myself from a stressful situation, there are a number of things I can do to calm myself down. Sometimes, I''m so wound up that I just need to ride it out (for instance, I''ll clean) and other times, I just need 10 minutes of quiet time.
My best advice for someone with an anxiety disorder is to seek support from a medical professional ASAP. You don''t have to live with anxiety!

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