What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety: Entering Another Dimension

There are many forms of anxiety: panic attacks, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, substance-induced anxiety, agoraphobia, etc. Anxiety is prevalent in all cultures and nobody is immune to it. The Existential School of Thought actually believes that the source of anxiety is existence itself. Not all anxiety is bad however; it is normal to have anxiety if you are being threatened. That means that your sympathetic system is warning you that potential danger lies ahead. On the other hand, other forms of anxiety can be very debilitating and paralyze people.

What are Panic Attacks? A panic attack is a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety: a fear of the world coming to an end, sweating, palpitations (heart beating fast), a fear of being “doomed”, a fear of loss of control of oneself, trembling and shaking, shortness of breath or chest tightness, chills or even hot flashes. Multiple recurrent panic attacks over a month with a future fear of having more panic attacks results in a diagnosis of Panic Disorder; this can be caused by genetics or substances such as excessive alcohol use. If anyone has even experienced a panic attack, they know that it is extremely unpleasant. I have experienced panic attacks and I can attest that the feeling of “derealization” is very real: an alteration of the experience of your surroundings. For example, you may lose track of time or you may feel a sense of disconnection with your surroundings. On a positive note, panic attacks can be treated with medication and CBT.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? This is 6 months or more of excessive and exaggerated worrying and tension about everyday things, that other people would normally not worry about. For instance, a mother may excessively worry about: going to work, paying the bills, picking her son up from soccer practice, putting food on the table, doing the laundry, not making enough money, not exercising enough, not having enough friends, etc. These are all normal things to worry about, but patients with GAD take it to the extreme where the worrying becomes debilitating: it interferes with their sleep and relationships and they may even experience feeling lightheaded or shortness of breath. Thankfully, GAD can be treated with medication and therapy.

What is Social Anxiety? This is the intense fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social situation. For instance, you go out with your friend to a bar on a Friday night and he suddenly storms out within 20 minutes of being there. When you find him outside on a bench down the street from the bar, his reasoning may be “I thought everyone was staring at me and judging me” when in fact, nobody was. This disorder can be very debilitating because it prevents people from having a normal social life; some may not even go to work or school anymore due to a fear of being humiliated. The solution is medication, therapy and encouraging the person to socialize despite having the irrational fear.

What is Substance-Induced Anxiety? As you can guess, it involves anxiety that has been brought upon by a drug, such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, K2, methamphetamine, etc. The anxiety usually occurs while the person is under the influence of the drug. They may feel panic, worried, have shortness of breath and sweating and feel like they are going to die. The anxiety usually subsides after they come out of their high. Some drugs such as alcohol can cause panic disorder, which persists after the intoxication from alcohol goes away. This is treated with medication, therapy and sobriety.

And lastly, what is Agoraphobia? This is an extreme fear of being in open places, such as a mall or college classroom, and results in the person not wanting to leave their home, in order to avoid the anxiety that comes upon them when they are in the open place. They interpret these open places as “being difficult to escape from.” A lot of times, agoraphobia is associated with panic disorder, because the person may have had a panic attack in an open place (a mall, a college classroom, a gym, etc.) and therefore, has developed a fear of being in that open place; they try to avoid having a future panic attack by not going to that open place again. Agoraphobia can be very serious as it can paralyze people and prevent them from leaving their home. It is a very depressing condition to have. This is treated with medication, therapy and encouraging the person to go into open places and live a normal life, despite their fear.

There are more anxiety disorders that haven’t been covered here, but I hope you are able to understand the serious nature of these disorders and their impact on humanity. The DSM movement encourages everyone to come together and share their experiences, so we can unify and tackle these problems together.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

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