Anxiety is an inevitable part of modern life. It’s important to realize that there are many situations that come up in everyday life where it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety. Anxiety disorders are different from everyday normal anxiety in that they involve anxiety that is more intense, lasts longer or may lead to phobias that interfere with your life. Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health has shown that anxiety disorders are the number one mental health problem among American women and is increasingly common among men, second only to alcoholism and drug abuse.
What are the Anxiety Disorders?Martin awakens suddenly almost every night for three weeks, with tightness in his throat, dizziness, and a racing heart. He is shaking all over, and doesn’t know why. After many nights of worrying about this occurrence, he decides to go and see his doctor to find out whether something is wrong with his heart. Martin suffers from Panic Disorder.
Susan, a university student, has been avoiding going out with her friends because she experienced some attacks like Martins’ when in crowded public situations. Not only does she fear losing control of herself, but she worries about what others may think of her if this were to happen. Susan reached a point where she only felt comfortable going out when with her boyfriend. Many times, she has needed to leave the movie theatre or restaurants during dates with her boyfriend. Now she is beginning to panic about how she will manage at school, and fears losing control of herself there as well. Susan feels that she is not coping at all and has even considered quitting school and moving back to her parents’ home because of her lack of confidence. Susan suffers from Agoraphobia.
Kevin has a responsible position as a mechanical engineer, but feels that he is unable to advance because of his discomfort contributing ideas in group meetings. It’s almost more than he can bear just to sit in on meetings, let alone offer his opinions. One day Kevin’s boss asked him to present his work on a project. He felt tongue-tied and stammered a response to his boss, but privately, thought about resigning. Kevin’s fear about being criticized and judged by his colleagues was so overpowering that he was considering resigning rather than risking embarrassment. Kevin suffers from Social Phobia.
Patricia has trouble arriving at work on time in the morning because she is plagued by fears that she did not lock up her apartment properly before leaving home. Routinely, she has to double back once or twice and check whether she indeed locked the door before leaving home. Patricia is so embarrassed about this behaviour that she is afraid to tell her boss why she is late. Patricia is suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Martin, Susan, Kevin and Patricia are all confronted by anxiety, that is not “ordinary anxiety” common to all of us. Their experiences differ in two ways from “normal anxiety”: First, their anxiety has gone out of control. In each case, the person feels powerless to direct what is happening. This sense of powerlessness creates even more anxiety. Second, the anxiety is interfering with their normal functioning. Martin’s sleep is disrupted, Susan may need to drop out of university and move back to her parent’s home, and Kevin and Patricia fear losing their jobs.
Here are the various anxiety disorders defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition:
- Panic Disorder
- Social Phobia
- Specific Phobia
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Agoraphobia without history of Panic Disorder
- Anxiety Disorder due to a General Medical Condition
- Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety (usually found in children)
Causes of Anxiety DisordersThere are many different and overlapping causes of anxiety disorders. These include heredity (genetic), cumulative stress over time, and short-term stressors (events) that trigger panic. Research has also lead to the realization that the ways that we think about these stressors and events affects how we cope with them. For example, if we think that the worst will happen, and dismiss all the positives in a situation, only focusing on the negatives, we are thinking in a way that maintains the anxiety. Our ways of thinking about our difficulties may have been learned in our families when we were growing up or they may have developed from our own life experiences.
Recovery from Anxiety DisordersMost treatments of Anxiety Disorders have a basis in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, which focuses on the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour (action). However, since the causes of anxiety disorders are so varied, an adequate approach to recovery needs to be, too. We use a comprehensive approach to understand and to treat anxiety which takes into account six different levels.
- The Physical level involves how to cope with the physical reactions and symptoms, as well as how to reduce and gradually eliminate panic reactions;
- The Emotional level involves recognizing symptoms of suppressed feelings that may cause anxiety, and learning to express and communicate your feelings to someone else;
- The Behavioural level involves becoming more aware of behaviours that maintain the anxiety, such as avoidance. Also, certain behaviours like trying to fight or resist panic will usually only aggravate it.
- The Mental level refers to what you say to yourself internally (self talk) and has a major effect on your state of anxiety. People with all types of anxiety disorders tend to engage in excessive “what if thinking”, imagining the worst possible outcomes, are frequently self-critical and engage in perfectionistic thinking (statements to yourself that start with “I should”, “I have to”, “I must”) that also promote anxiety.
- The Interpersonal level refers to the fact that much of the anxiety that people experience arises from difficulties in relationships. When you have difficulty expressing your feelings and needs to important others, you may find yourself swallowing frustration to the point where you are chronically tense and anxious. Sometimes anxiety arises from relationships but other times, you relationships with family members, and colleagues are affected by your struggles. For this reason, it is at times helpful to involve your partner or family members in some parts of the counselling process.
- The Biological level refers to the fact that some times anxiety disorders are genetic and based on biological reactions in the brain. It is sometimes helpful to treat anxiety disorders with medication in conjunction with counselling.
With treatment, you can experience relief from anxiety and feel more confident that you can cope with stressful situations. We are committed to helping you live your best life.