What is anxiety and what are its effects?
Of the top 10 fears in people’s lives, speaking in front of large groups ranks number one - individuals feeling anxious days or weeks before the event while simply anticipating it. Other top-rated fears that evoke anxiety include the fear of spiders, fear of heights, and the fear of closed-in spaces.
But when does a top 10 fear turn into a long-term problem with anxiety? The type of anxiety that must be treated by a mental health professional (see Mental Health Professionals) in order to halt the control anxiety can exert over an individual’s life?
Those in the mental health field gauge anxiety levels by the extent to which the anxiety affects a person’s normal, everyday functioning. From bathing to going to work, to parenting and having healthy relationships, anxiety must not prevent people from living satisfying lives. If it does, then the anxiety has become a problem.
In most situations, anxiety helps rather than hurts. For example, the anxiety felt when walking down a dark alley at night can keep us safe. Even when preparing for a speech, anxiety helps individuals to “over prepare,” focus, and deliver a polished presentation.
And the fast-paced, hectic lifestyles of today’s world make stress and anxiety a part of everyone’s day. Completely eliminating the stress or fears that lead to anxiety is impossible.
However, problematic anxiety begins to surface when a fear of talking in front of others prevents individuals from being able to manage necessary communication with coworkers or friends. (see Generalized Anxiety Disorder).
Perhaps an individual experiences such severe anxiety during a job interview in front of two or three prospective managers that he or she can’t finish the interview – or fails to show up at all for the interview. Or perhaps an individual refuses to visit his or her child’s classroom, fearing the possibility of having to stand before a classroom of children and speak.
In both situations, anxiety is affecting the welfare and well being of the individual – and the individual’s family. In cases of severe anxiety, many choose to stay locked inside their homes.
Anxiety that exceeds the expected
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 40 million Americans, aged 18 and older, suffer with an anxiety disorder in a given year (see Anxiety Disorders). This does not include the normal anxiety or jitters over giving a speech, or the anxiety one experiences when starting a new job, or over beginning a new romantic relationship.
Anxiety that lasts at least six months and seriously affects the daily living and functioning of an individual falls within the definition of an anxiety disorder, and affects those 40 million individuals, or roughly 18% of the U. S. population, according to the NIMH.
Several types of conditions exist that involve atypical amounts of anxiety, and they include the following:
Types of Anxiety Conditions
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
If left untreated, many of these anxiety disorders can turn into serious, complicated problems. But with the help of today’s mental health professionals, many suffering with an anxiety disorder receive the help and treatment needed to resume living life as fully and purposefully as possible.
If you desire to help others suffering from mental health disorders such as anxiety, consider a career as a mental health counselor or therapist. A background in psychology is required for entry into most mental health fields.
Contact schools offering degrees in psychology for more information.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Diagnosing a mental health disorder such as anxiety takes a skilled, trained mental health professional, but what are the signs or signals for an individual to notice in order to seek help in the first place?
- Excessive worrying, even when there isn’t an overriding concern or apparent reason for the worry
- Feeling jittery, trembling, or moving within a constant state of urgency
- Trouble sleeping
- Irritability or a short temper
- Rapid heartbeat/shallow breathing
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth/trouble swallowing
- Trouble concentrating
- Sexual problems
- Abdominal pain (especially apparent in children)
Many of these symptoms are associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (see GAD), one type of anxiety condition. (Although all anxiety disorders can have one or more of the above symptoms as well. See Anxiety Disorders)
GAD often occurs with other mental health conditions, such as other anxiety disorders, substance abuse and addictions (see Substance Abuse), depression (see Depression), and different types of mood disorders.
Rather than experiencing symptoms associated with the normal stresses of everyday life, individuals with an anxiety disorder have symptoms that don’t go away over time. In fact, the symptoms often become worse.
If individuals with this type of anxiety seek treatment earlier rather than later, their symptoms are often easier to treat.