Do you find yourself worrying most of the time? Are you anxious in social situations? Have you ever panicked or felt apprehensive when there was no apparent reason to do so? If so, you are not alone.
Anxiety Disorders are the number one mental health problem for American women. For men, they is secondary only to drug and alcohol abuse. Research shows that Anxiety Disorders reached an epidemic proportion in the 1990's with no shown decrease in recent years.
But why are these problems so prevalent? And why now? Among other factors, Anxiety Disorders have proven to be the end result of cumulative stress over time. Western civilization has always lived with stress and in various stressful societal conditions such as the Great Depression, or the Civil War. But never in our nation's history have we experienced such a vast change in such a small amount of time. This is due to our enormous technological advances over the last 30 years which have changed our lives radically, beyond our ability to adjust in some cases.
To add to this condition, the lack of a steadfast, externally approved set of standards and values (traditionally imposed by religion and culture) leaves a vacuum in which people must fend for themselves. Faced with a bombardment of inconsistent world views and standards presented by the media, people are having to learn to contend with the responsibility of creating their own meaning and moral order.
We've concluded that anxiety is an inevitable part of life today and that some anxiety is a normal reaction. But what distinguishes normal and appropriate anxiety from an Anxiety Disorder? Anxiety Disorders involve anxiety which typically lasts longer (maybe months), is more intense (for example, panic attacks), and can lead to phobias that diminish quality of life. Anxiety Disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Panic Disorders and Agoraphobia.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by persistent anxiety and worry lasting for at least a six month period. Social Phobia involves a fear of social or performance situations that cause one to avoid the situation altogether. Panic Disorder is characterized by sudden episodes of intense fear that seem to come out of nowhere with no apparent cause. Agoraphobia is a fear of panic attacks themselves, which causes one to avoid situations where panic attacks have occurred. Other Anxiety Disorders include Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Specific Phobia, and Acute Stress Disorder.
There are other contributing causes of Anxiety Disorders besides stress which can bring about the onset, perpetuate the problem, or be a risk factor for the development of the disorder. These factors can include heredity, childhood circumstances, biological causes, trauma, avoidance behaviors, anxious self-talk, mistaken beliefs, withheld feelings, lifestyle, muscle tension, diet, and lack of meaning or sense of purpose. There is never only one cause, and frequently a complex weaving of these factors that bring upon an Anxiety Disorder.
If the causes are varied, then it's understandable that the treatment then would be too. The most effective approach to treating an Anxiety Disorder is one that addresses the full range of contributing factors, or a comprehensive approach. This treatment approach needs to address many different levels of the causes including physical, emotional, behavioral, mental, interpersonal and spiritual.
If you sense that your anxiety is at a mild to moderate level, you may be able to manage it through stress management skills, deep breathing exercises, deep relaxation, regular aerobic exercise, and nutritional improvements. If it seems that your anxiety cannot be self-managed, you may want to seek professional help from an experienced therapist. Together you will be able to decide what tools to try, and determine which are most effective for you.
Kathi Reazer, M.S. is an intern at Families Counseling. She has a strong background in working with trauma survivors, as well as an interest in anxiety disorders. For additional information please contact her at (805) 583-3976 x 22.