From the outside, it is easy to judge each other by our appearances, but not all of our pains are worn like a scarlet letter on our chest. We often assume if we can't see something, then it might not exist—a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from the unwanted. Our belief system has us trusting that pain is nonexistent unless someone is bleeding, but some of the most painful aches are the ones we mask internally. Depression is not the only mental health concern we have turned a blind eye to. Actually, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorder is amongst the most common health care concerns in the United States. Close to 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety every day.
Anxiety can be as painful as depression. While depression is more like a case of the blues, anxiety feels like an occurrence of the ‘fire’. Anxiety symptoms can be confusing and distressing. Imagine every blood cell is rushing so fast through your body that you constantly feel hazy. A broken guitar is consistently strumming a dead beat in your head and a swarm of bees are buzzing in your ears, all while you can't stop the constant rubbing of your forefingers and the cracking of your knuckles. Your palms are sweaty and you grind your teeth so hard that your shoulders tighten, pressing down on your veins, compressing your face and bursting flames out of your eyes. Then the endless migraines slow you down while your heart races at 90 mph. You try to slow your heart rate while listening to your friends, but you can’t focus on anything because everything and anything they say only adds to your anxiety. You avoid eye contact, not because you don’t want to hear them, but because you have plenty of noises in your head and the last thing you need is someone else’s dilemmas. Thus, you pray for them to disappear as your palms are now drenched with sweat. All you want to do is isolate yourself so you could talk yourself out of your insecurities and misery, but everything around you is rushing so fast you can't take a moment to breathe or calm down because you’re rolling in deep anxiety.
You begin to search for the problem, and you search, and you search. You organized every drawer in the house, hoping to take back control of at least something in your life or perhaps you'll find the problem in your sock drawer. You come back empty-handed every time, but now your heart paces at 120 mph and the clock is moving backwards. You’re on an endless search for meaning and left only more confused since you can’t find the problem and you have no idea how or when the pain will disappear.
A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal concluded that anxious brains are inherited. Anxiety disorders can develop from a various set of risk factors, including brain chemistry, personality, genetics, and life events such as trauma, work, and school. It’s very common for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Approximately one-half of patients diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be referred to as a variety of diagnoses, including: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects approximately 6.8 million adults. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Social Anxiety Disorder is equally common among men and women and children as young as thirteen have been diagnosed with it. Sadly, an ADAA survey concluded that 36 percent of people suffering from symptoms of social anxiety disorder conveyed experiencing and living with the pain for more than ten years before seeking help.
Imagine questioning yourself for a decade and being afraid of looking like a fool, of stepping out of your house, of talking to strangers. You wonder to yourself, “Why are these people staring at me”—even if they only glance. Or, "Why did that girl just laugh at me"—though chances are her laughter wasn’t even about you. For ten years, almost every day, questioning and doubting every move people made because you worried they disliked you or were making fun of you.
Patients with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than patients who do not struggle with an anxiety disorder. Two recent studies done by Harvard Medical School and the Lown Cardiovascular Research Institute concluded that those suffering from an anxiety disorder were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those with no history of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be overwhelming and disabling, but with the appropriate treatment, many people have been able to manage it and live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Before you begin to self-diagnose and search for the dead-beat guitar tone in your head, know that an active amount of anxiety is healthy and can be beneficial. Psychologists have reported that some anxiety could help our efforts to perform and focus. In other words, as long as anxiety doesn’t rule your life—rather, stimulates you to perform better—then you don’t have an anxiety disorder, so please abstain from self-diagnosing.
Anxiety symptoms can look very different from person-to-person because anxiety is a group of associated conditions. Some people are prone to intense attacks, while others might be fighting with a disabling social anxiety fear or scary intrusive thoughts. However, countless people live in a persistent state of fear, worrying about anything and everything. There are two categories of some common emotional and physical symptoms.
Emotional symptoms of anxiety:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Watching for danger signs
- Anticipating the worst
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
Physical symptoms of anxiety:
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension or twitches
- Shaking or trembling
Anxiety disorders are treatable, but only about one-third of people suffering receive treatment. Anxiety disorder is as serious as any other physical disorder, such as heart disease, diabetes, or coronary artery disease. Treatments typically include medication, psychotherapy or both. Keep in mind that medication does not cure the symptoms, it only relieves it. Self-help or stress-management groups along with meditation, yoga, and exercise are beneficial in anxiety management. Most importantly, family and friends have a significant role in recovery. Ideally, they should be supportive, understanding, and should always stay away from tough love.