Everyone feels anxiety in their lives. Whether we’re nervous about a job interview or worrying about a child’s safety, anxiety is a part of life. That fight-or-flight response is what enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, today’s hectic modern world is much different than the one in which we originally developed. Rather than worrying about having enough food to eat or being attacked by predators we worry about the many intricacies our complex lives have to offer. This can cause, in some individuals, irrational and debilitating anxieties. When this happens, the individual has an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are often known as the common cold of mental illness. They affect millions of people every year. The overwhelming feelings of anxiety and nervousness can cause a person to stop functioning in our world altogether. As a sufferer of generalized anxiety disorder myself, I have seen firsthand how this illness can become more than a normal case of nervousness and turn in to a disability. There are a number of different varieties of anxiety disorders that have been identified by psychologists, each of which is treatable with either therapy or medication.
For this issue of Mental Health Perspectives, we’ll focus on two of the most common anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There is no specific rhyme or reason to the intense feelings of worry that sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder face. This persistent anxiety, while sometimes triggered by certain events or circumstances, is often brought on randomly. This illness can not only cause unrelenting feelings of anxiety but also create physical symptoms such as headaches, heart palpitations, exhaustion, and insomnia. Sufferers can find daily life almost unbearable and can even push the inflicted person to take a leave of absence due to disability from work or school.
Coming from personal experience, this illness causes incredible suffering to those afflicted. I have missed many days of work and school because I was so anxious I couldn’t attend. The emotion is overwhelming and one can do nothing but stay home and take a tranquilizing medication in order to calm the anxiety attack. It is a physical feeling that occurs in the chest, almost like someone is gripping onto the heart. It’s an illness that I would never wish on even my worst enemy and yet I battle daily in order to control. Recovery from it can be long and arduous, though fortunately it’s very treatable.
Brief, paralyzing bouts of fear and anxiety are the prominent symptoms of a panic disorder. A panic attack is often described by those who experience them like a heart attack. Shaking, dizziness, disorientation, confusion, and intense fear often accompany this feeling. Sufferers often find these attacks to be highly embarrassing when they occur in a public situation.
Though I have not experienced this illness personally, one of my best friends in high school suffered from terrible panic attacks. The first time it happened to her the pain in her chest was so intense that everyone thought she had suffered a heart attack. Upon being rushed to the emergency room they discovered she’d merely had a panic attack, yet this shows how incredibly strong these attacks can be. They are entirely debilitating for the short period of time during which they occur. They last anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours and leave the sufferer feeling exhausted.
These are just two of the many anxiety disorders that afflict millions of Americans on a yearly basis. Those who believe they may be suffering from either of these disorders should seek immediate medical attention. As I mentioned earlier, both are very treatable. Recovery may be difficult but it is most certainly possible.