Understanding and Coping with Worry and Fear
Fear, dread, worry, panic - and all the physical symptoms that accompany them - are the body's natural response to stressful situations. However, constant anxiety is not normal and can negatively affect your functioning and quality of life. Unhealthy anxiety interferes with normal functioning and may be the sign of an anxiety disorder. How do you know when it is healthy or unhealthy anxiety?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling you get when you are uncertain, worried or fearful about something. It is a feeling that something is wrong, or is about to go wrong. In most cases it is a useful emotion because it lets us know that we need to pay extra attention, or be cautious about a current or future situation.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is a condition where your feelings of worry and fear persist, or intensify to the point of panic, especially when the current situation doesn't warrant it. Anxiety disorders occur in many ways, and there are several types, each responding to different treatments and coping strategies. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 40 million (or 18%) of Americans aged 18 or older in any given year. Many things can cause or even be classed as an anxiety disorder, these include phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
What to do...
No matter what the type of anxiety, the most important thing to remember is that anxiety is a feeling that, in itself, is harmless. Coping strategies are varied and dependent on your particular needs. Many people are successful with approaches such as cognitive therapy and medication to lifestyle changes such as exercise and meditation. These strategies, used in combination or alone, have proven extremely effective.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms ...
Panic Disorder is characterized by sudden and unpredictable episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as pounding heart, chest pain, lightheadedness or dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking or trembling.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can result from terrifying experiences such as rape, kidnapping, natural disasters, war or serious accidents such as car crashes or the witnessing of such events. Symptoms range from constantly reliving the event to a general emotional numbing. Persistent anxiety, exaggerated startle reactions, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, and insomnia are common.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by persistent and disturbing thoughts in conjunction with repetitive, often ritualized behaviors in an attempt to control the anxiety the thoughts produce. The disorder can profoundly disrupt a person's functioning as the thoughts and behaviors come to dominate one's life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of chronic, exaggerated worry that appear to have no cause or are more intense than the situation warrants. Physical signs, such as restlessness, trouble falling or staying asleep, headaches, trembling, twitching, muscle tension, or sweating, often accompany the anxious feelings.
Phobias are irrational fears that lead people to altogether avoid specific things or situations that trigger intense anxiety. Common phobias include fear of snakes, spiders, enclosed places, heights and public speaking. Many of the physical symptoms that accompany panic attacks - such as sweating, racing heart, and trembling - also occur with phobias.
If you suspect that you, or someone you know, have an anxiety disorder or experiences persistent or severe worry or fear, seek information and treatment. Please contact RMH Behavioral Health at 540-564-5960, or toll free 877-294-5631. Our office is located at 644 University Blvd., Harrisonburg, VA.