Anxiety is a real concern. Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. (Kessler, et al. 2005). Anxiety disorders also commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or even make them worse. It is a disorder that we should pay attention to in our society.
Anxiety can be described on a continuum, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety, Specific Phobia, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, PTSD/Acute Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and other categories (eating disorders/addictions). From generalized worry to heart-pounding panic attacks, the disorders that comprise the anxiety spectrum can range from bothersome to debilitating.
Anxiety has its links to genetics. Nauert (2008) found that a specific gene is linked with anxiety-related traits. “We found that variations in this gene were associated with shy, inhibited behavior in children, introverted personality in adults and the reactivity of brain regions involved in processing fear and anxiety”. Therefore, it is important to recognize that those who suffer aren’t just making a big deal out of things. They can have anxiety hard-wired in them.
To treat anxiety, counseling and medications in combination are usually recommended. Medication alone will generally not cure anxiety disorders, but it can keep symptoms under control while a person receives psychotherapy. One type of psychotherapy that is useful in treating anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations.
For those of us not trained in counseling or medicine, there are ways to help those suffering from anxiety. The biggest theme is to instill the hope that they can overcome their fears. Other ideas to stress include possibility versus probability. For those with anxiety, they sometimes fear that the worse thing possible will happen to them. Although it is possible that this could happen, it is important to consider the probability of it actually occurring, such as the odds of a plane crashing. The second idea to convey is inconvenience versus tragedy, which helps keep things in perspective. If something bad happens, like a minor car accident, is this a tragedy or just an inconvenience? Although a car accident is inconvenient, it may necessarily be a tragedy. This belief can help keep events in perspective. The last idea to stress is reacting versus responding. A good way to keep anxiety down is with preparation. If you expect a negative event to happen, are you prepared to deal with it? Having a plan in place helps you to respond to a situation rather than just reacting. Being prepared for worse case scenarios can often help anxiety at bay.
Overall, anxiety is a prevalent disorder among Americans. Whether if you seek help from friends or professionals, anxiety is something that can be managed with the right tools.
By Tommy Wells, Clinical Associate/Coordinator
Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27.
Nauert PhD, R. (2008). Genetic Disposition for Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 8, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/03/04/genetic-disposition-for-anxiety/1997.html
Turo-Shields, Christine (2012). Calming the Calamities: Teaching Children to Manage Anxiety & Panice. Presentation given January 19, 2012 through Valle Vista Health System.