According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults.”
Anxiety is a psychological, emotional and physical response to danger that the brain perceives.
Anxiety is a protective mechanism that has kept us safe since the beginning of time.
The term “fight or flight” is often associated with anxiety and was the choices our ancestors had when faced a dangerous situation. For example, they could either fight or flee when a wild animal was in sight. The fight or flight response brought on by anxiety can actually get our body ready for action and increase our performance and stamina.
You’d never want to “turn off” the fight or flight system because it’s useful and without it you may end up getting hurt. For example, it’s necessary when you’re standing on a roof of a building, driving, and so on.
So the real problem isn’t this system. It’s when this system “malfunctions” or “activates” when there is no real danger.
Unfortunately, why exactly this system malfunctions isn’t always clear but could be attributed to some of the following:
o Poor coping skills
o Traumatic events
So How do you know if you have anxiety or an anxiety disorder?
Scared of spiders, snakes, or blood? Worried about major life events like having a child, taking a test, or getting a job? Stomach upset before doing a presentation?
Those feelings are a normal and healthy part of life.
Everyone differs in what causes them to feel anxious so how do you know if it’s an anxiety disorder?
First, identify the cause of the anxiety (ex. being late to work). Then assess whether the anxiety symptoms are a reasonable response to it. Feelings of worry, fear, unrealistic, extreme, or exaggerated thoughts that are interfering with your life and functioning could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
People may not understand your “worry”. You may hear things like, “It’s not a big deal.” “Just let it go.” “It’ll be okay.” Unfortunately, you are NOT able to just let it go.
Anxiety disorders often times appear first in childhood. This is an ideal time to seek help for your child since children’s brains are still in the midst of developing and able to adapt to new ways of thinking.
What can anxiety look like?
o Unnecessary, ongoing worry and tension
o Increased heartbeat
o Trouble focusing
o Clammy hands
o Feelings of fear or panic
o Trouble sleeping or falling asleep
o Restlessness “feeling on edge”
o An unrealistic view of problems
o frequent bathroom visits
o Constantly tired
There are many types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder- “Feelings of excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason." According to adaa, affecting 6.8 million adults.
Separation Anxiety Disorder- Children who become extremely anxious when separated from their parents.
Specific Phobia- People who experience strong irrational fear reactions related to a specific phobia.
Selective Mutism- Children who refuse to speak in places where talking is necessary. This refusal interferes with school and making friends.
Social Anxiety Disorder- According to ADAA, “Intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. Affecting 15 million Americans.”
Panic Disorder- People who experience spontaneous seemingly out of the blue panic attacks and are very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. (Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia, 2016)
Obsessive compulsive disorder- People have obsessions and compulsions. According to ADAA, "Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress or anxiety. Compulsions are behaviors a person feels obligated to perform in order to ease their anxiety or overpower the thoughts."
Post traumatic Stress Disorder- People have a hard time recovering after witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event.
There is hope
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an anxiety disorder, get help! The healthier you are mentally, the more capable you will be to cope and control it. Mind has real power over the body. Get started on repairing your fight or flight response.
Learn more about what to expect in therapy.
Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2017, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
(n.d.). Retrieved December 2, 2017, from https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/fight-or-flight-response