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Worry and fear are more than just two little words. They are also the major symptoms of Anxiety Disorder, the most common psychological problem many people experience at some point in their lifetime. So common, that according to The National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million adults in the United States, age 18 and older, are affected each year (18% of the U.S. population). Our adolescent population is also no stranger to anxiety as 25% of 13 to 18 year olds are affected. This is one out of every four people, which is a tenfold increase over the past 30 years.
What has lead to such a large increase? There are many theories: from a reaction to recent terrorist attacks, school shootings, natural disasters and financial problems, to the concern and argument that the diagnostic criteria used to diagnose anxiety disorders has been watered down. This would mean that more people who present with some symptoms of anxiety will be formally diagnosed and even prescribed medication, when in the past their symptoms did not meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis.
The diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is usually made by looking at three main areas: the intensity and duration of symptoms, the problems with daily functioning caused by the symptoms and observation of the person's attitude and behavior. There are several types of anxiety disorders. These include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. If you have an intense fear of becoming humiliated in social situations, specifically the fear of embarrassing oneself in front of other people, you would be diagnosed with a social phobia. If you were afraid of snakes or high places, you would be diagnosed with a specific phobia. These categories also have subcategories within them. For example, if a child speaks at home but does not speak at school, they would be diagnosed with a social phobia called selective mutism. If a person is afraid of snakes, they would have a specific phobia called Ophidiophobia.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. Most people do not like public speaking and can experience fear and worry for days or weeks leading up to their speech. How about your worry and fear over that upcoming exam or all important job interview? Anxiety can be a powerful motivator to help you get through these life events by persuading you to study harder for an exam, prepare for that all important job interview or get you through your public speaking event. Every day events can also cause one to feel anxious as well, like being late for work, car troubles and many other every day activities.
While anxiety can be a normal reaction, as well as beneficial at times, there are many techniques you can incorporate into your daily or weekly schedule that can really help. Having a hobby is a great way to take your mind off your worries. This can include art, gardening, exercise and reading. The exercise does not need to be intense. It could be taking a walk in your neighborhood or doing a yoga or meditation DVD in the privacy of your home. Some people find cooking helps reduce their anxiety. Other simple and easy, yet effective techniques are taking a hot bath, lighting candles or drinking a cup of tea. The idea is to engage your mind and body in activities that you enjoy.
Stress and worry, however, can express itself on a subtler and less problematic level so that you may not even know you have anxiety. Some of the more popular symptoms are insomnia, stomachaches and headaches. Even hair loss and skin rashes can be a reaction to anxiety. After you have seen your medical doctor, in order to rule out a medical condition, the job then becomes finding out what is causing your anxiety. It could be your current job, relationship, financial situation or concerns with your weight and/or health. You may be worried about your future. While one would not call this a formal anxiety disorder, if left ignored it could lead to more severe physical problems.
While a single symptom alone may not require the support of a therapist, talking to a friend or family member may help you to see if you can pinpoint what may be worrying you. By seeking clarity, as well as engaging in techniques to reduce your anxiety, you will be working toward decreasing your fear, worry and stress.
Some level of anxiety is normal and beneficial to us in living our day to day lives, however, if your feelings of fear and worry prevent you from taking care of your daily chores and lasts for more than a few months, you may have an anxiety disorder that will require the support and care of a licensed therapist. Get help. Don't go it alone.
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Content copyright © 2013 by Dr. Ilyssa Hershey. All rights reserved.
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