Published On: Wed, May 9th, 2018

Mental Health: When Everyday Anxiety Transforms Into a Troubling Disorder

Getting nervous or anxious is quite normal when experiencing new situations like moving overseas alone, transferring to another school, being introduced to strangers and speaking for the first time in public or when facing financial difficulties. The feeling of unease or fear starts overwhelming you before the event or situation actually happens because the anticipation gradually becomes unbearable. Whether you desperately want to fit in when joining a new group, avoid embarrassing yourself when attending special occasions or fear germs when spending time in crowded shopping malls, all the worries or questionings in your head will inevitably cause you anxiety.

People with phobias that consist in being stuck in small or dark spaces, traveling by airplane or even being near clowns have a powerful reaction because their brain processes fear differently. More specifically, the danger signal activates the amygdala that control neurotransmitters, which usually produce a panic attack. Apart from fearful situations, other anxiety triggers include past memories and trauma. War and car accident survivors as well as individuals who experienced abuse during childhood cannot help but associate past events with negative emotions.

photo/ Pete Linforth

Anxiety represents a subjective experience

It does not matter if you are a 32-year old medicine student, a 50-year old jewelry store owner or a 29-year old freelance web designer, anxiety immediately surfaces if you work under pressure, you worry about the growth of your business or you have to travel abroad more than you would like to meet with foreign clients. If you are calm and low-key on a daily basis, it does not mean that you cannot have unexpected moments when your heart suddenly begins to race and your body to sweat excessively. You feel like you no longer control the situation and that scares you terribly. However, the next question inevitably arises: how do you know when “normal” everyday anxiety becomes a concerning disorder or how do you make a clear distinction between the two?

Anxiety represents a complex topic and a subjective experience that some people find it hard to understand or do not manage to understand at all. This is because anxiety has multiple causes and manifests differently. The set of symptoms provoked by anxiety involves cognitive, emotional, behavioral and physical components. Thus, if you ask multiple people about this troubling experience, expect to receive distinct answers.

Normal anxiety and anxiety disorder: making a clear distinction

For the majority of people, anxiety represents an adaptive occurrence but for others it can lead to great distress. A heightened degree of anxiety can easily interfere with the proper functioning of an individual, affecting his life entirely. Anxiety happens quite frequently for students. Especially students who want to go to medical school, the time of MCAT prep can be very trying and stress inducing.Whether we are talking about personal relationships, school performance or work productivity, the individual in question experienced a decline in happiness and wellbeing. Anxiety is a term that represents different degrees of emotional intensity; the lowest end of intensity is normal or adaptive, as used previously and the highest peak, we can already consider pathological or maladaptive. However, intensity is not the only factor that differentiates normal anxiety from anxiety disorder. The other two refer to frequency and duration.

This article has the purpose to dive into the two forms of anxiety in order to help people gain a better understanding of the topic. Anxiety and fear have a close relationship, besides being emotions. Nevertheless, they are not quite identical because experts view fear as a primary emotion meaning that you can recognize it just by analyzing someone’s facial expressions and anxiety as a secondary emotion seeing it more as an internal, personal experience. The time frame also become a crucial factor in making a difference between fear and anxiety because as explained at the beginning of the article, anxiety builds up due to the unsupportable anticipation, but fear occurs when the brain detects a danger. Consequently, you experience anxiety as a natural anticipation of fear. Since tis is almost like a defensive mechanism that allows you to prepare for a future threat, we can safely state that anxiety is a beneficial emotion.

The most common symptoms caused by anxiety

We know that anxiety become a concerning issue when its duration, frequency and intensity exceed the normal parameters. At that point, instead of improving people’s wellbeing, it does the contrary; more exactly, it impairs proper functioning causing significant distress. For instance, you might have speech anxiety and even experience panic attacks prior to the big moment, but you still go up there and talk to the audience, which means that it does not impede you from completing tasks or achieving objectives. On the other hand, if you have dental phobia or anxiety and you refuse to visit the dentist’s office even when you have a toothache or a serious infection, then your anxiety clearly causes health problems and a great amount of pain. Making a clear distinction between the two is very important for truly understanding the burden falling on the shoulders of those people with anxiety disorder. They generally present specific symptoms including a racing heart, dizziness, hot flashes, tingling sensations or numbing, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue and sleep disturbance.

Coping with anxiety: different strategies and methods

Coping with anxiety symptoms is not easy; people cannot just get over it, but they do use multiple strategies, known as anxious avoidance, safety behaviors and sensitization. Other methods include resorting to medicinal plants that have a calming effect and making lifestyle modifications like maintaining a clean, uncluttered living space, spending time around positive and supportive people, adopting a health and balanced diet, exercising regularly, exploring different hobbies and engaging in entertaining activities, achieving the perfect balance between personal and professional life, learning and performing meditation techniques, using essential oils for a deep relaxation of the body and mind. Negative thoughts are the ones that nourish anxiety, which means that replacing them with a positive mindset does make a significant difference. Not only people suffering from anxiety disorder, but all people should express their gratitude for being healthy, having a financially rewarding job and a happy family.

Author: Cynthia Madison

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