Chances are, you know someone who suffers from an Anxiety Disorder. There are millions of Americans who endure some type of Anxiety, whether a specific phobia, panic attacks or generalized anxiety. For those who do not, it can be extremely difficult to understand. The very broad nature of Anxiety makes it impossible to encapsulate and explain. As a result, there is a great deal of misinformation available regarding diagnosis and treatment. But it’s important that we try to comprehend it. The odds are very high that our ideas about Anxiety are false and, therefore, counterintuitive when someone we care about experiences it.
Suppose you run out to the mailbox and return to discover that you’re locked out of the house. You might be angry with yourself for being so stupid and think, “This is going to screw up the rest of my day.” Then, you’d likely move on to problem solving. You’d remember that a cellar window is unlocked or contact a family member who has an extra house key. But, if you suffer from Anxiety, your thought process might look like this: “Oh my God! I can’t get in the house. What if there’s a fire and I lose everything and my cats die a horrible death and my family never forgives me and I’m alone, homeless with no clothes or food?” It’s pretty hard to problem solve when you’ve just lost everything in the world that is important to you, in a split second.
There are things I‘ve learned about Anxiety.
- It’s not about being nervous about a specific event or a general lack of confidence. Rather, it’s a debilitating, pervasive illness with physical symptoms as well as emotional.
- It’s not a fleeting mood that one can ‘snap out of’ or from which they can be cheered up. It’s the way the circuits in their brain regulate emotions – like fear – and it’s different from your brain and mine.
- Someone suffering from Anxiety realizes that their feelings and behavior are irrational. But they do not know why and they cannot explain it. So, don’t ask. And don’t point out that they are over reacting. You’ll only make them feel more inadequate than they already do, if that’s possible.
- Anxiety is a medical condition and a mental illness. We don’t know what causes it. Anxiety Disorder cannot be prevented. While it might be triggered by a significant or traumatic event, it’s victim was predisposed by brain chemistry and/or family history.
- Anxiety is exhausting. Hypervigilance and excessive worry require a great deal of energy. Coupled with even the normal demands and expectations of a social event, it can be overwhelming. Anxiety sufferers might seem to be isolating themselves because they just. can’t. do it.
Treatment is widely available and successful. However, it’s estimated that a third of people with Anxiety never seek help. I think the misconceptions about Anxiety are to blame, at least in part. If you’re constantly being told that it’s something you can control (Just calm down!), treatment isn’t even an option. While there are some simple things that can help, like dietary changes, meditation and exercise, most Anxiety requires long term psychotherapy and, often, medication. Then, there’s the stigma attached to either of these. It’s no surprise that so many choose to suffer silently.
Anxiety can be managed. The complex nature and disparity of diagnosis among people with distinct strengths and weaknesses make treatment challenging. Anxiety is not a straight line, but a flexible and fluid continuum. It affects 40 million adult Americans – roughly 18 percent of the population, making it the most common mental illness. Yet it’s often the most misunderstood.
If you are experiencing Anxiety, talk to someone who can help. Talk to those closest to you about what you need from them.
If someone you care about suffers from Anxiety, think about how you can best help. It requires a lot of patience and a willingness to change the way you feel about Anxiety. Start by acknowledging that it’s an illness that cannot be prevented or cured. Begin with acceptance and go from there.