You leave the house to go take an exam. On the way, you don't see a pedestrian crossing the street and have to slam on your brakes. "Oh no! Did I hit her?!" But it's okay. You missed her by about a foot. No one was hurt.
A piano's about to fall on your head (we won't wonder why it's hanging in the air). You panic and get out of the way just in time. Good job.
One night, you and your spouse have a little argument. You're a little worried upon going to bed, but after a good night's rest, you both wake up realizing how silly the whole thing was in the first place.
All three of these situations are related to some level of anxiety. When looking at my examples, do any sound out of the ordinary? Nope! Everyone gets anxious at one time or another. Anxiety can be very adaptive. It alerts us to potential problems in something as simple as our clothing. It causes us to slightly panic when something bad is about to happen, thus activating the flight/fight response. Anxiety can be a very good thing.
What is Anxiety?
Your body has an anxiety system and a fear system. To understand what I mean when I use those words in my other Anxiety posts, here's how they're professionally defined:
- Anxiety is an emotional state, specifically negative emotion. It's related to future-based concerns, challenges, dangers, etc...things you can't do anything about but prepare for because they haven't happened yet.
- Because you're concerned about something that may or may not happen in the future, you think about it. Normally, this type of worry can help you adequately study for exams, plan for work events, and be prepared for natural disasters.
- Fear is your reaction to something negative that happens in the present. The reaction is immediate because you feel you need to/can do something about it.
- It's the way you might react when you notice that you're standing dangerously close to a black widow spider or if a piano's about to fall on your head. It's your fight/flight response system being activated.
While anxiety is a very normal thing, it can sometimes get out of hand. Remember when I mentioned the 16 groups of disorders in the DSM (here)? Anxiety is one of those 16 groups. The way in which your worry or fear affects you will help determine which anxiety disorder you might have.
What causes it?
The only thing professionals are sure of after decades of study is that your environment plays a huge part in any type of anxiety. Even among families in which many members have been diagnosed with it, there have been no "anxiety" genes found. The only prevailing theory is that being raised in/exposed to an anxiety-filled environment can increase the risk of developing it yourself. Neuroscientists (people who study the brain) have found that, obviously, people who live together for a long period of time tend to think alike, and their brain patterns indicate this as well.
So, on one hand, if you were raised in an environment with anxiety or have lived in one for many decades, your chances of having it increase. On the other hand, if you weren't raised in an environment with anxiety or if you've lived away from it for a while (and around people who don't have it), your risk of being anxious may, and usually does, go down.
Of course, there are medications for it, but as I said in my Complications of Diagnosis post, a medication won't fix it. See, your body doesn't have white blood cells that are trained to fight mental health illnesses and make them go away. Mental health is, as it's name implies, centered in the brain. It's not a bacterial or viral infection. It's called a disorder for a reason. Therefore, you have to
The latest and greatest treatment for many disorders today (anxiety included) is called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (a.k.a. CBT). With this treatment, you work with your counselor/therapist to learn to recognize what triggers your anxiety and practice techniques to control it. The triggers and techniques will be different for everyone, hence CBT is very successful because it's designed to work with you on an individual level. As I explain the different types of disorders, I'll go into a few more details of how CBT works specifically with each one.
For now, enjoy the Anxiety segment of my blog. This segment will go over three of the disorders that are in the Anxiety class: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.