What are Anxiety Disorders and Why Should They be Taken Seriously?

There are many people of all ages, from all over the world, who suffer from anxiety disorders. These may range from having panic attacks to disturbed sleep patterns. The World Health Organization has classified anxiety disorders as one of the top five mental health diagnoses worldwide. In the US, such disorders are prevalent. Forty million Americans have confessed they are affected by anxiety and stress. In general, women tend to be more affected than men. So what are anxiety disorders exactly? Meditation and mindfulness are recommended ways to address such disorders, so what kind of mindfulness techniques can we try? Let’s discover some straightforward therapies we can all start today. 

How do we define anxiety disorders?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes such as increased blood pressure.”

Anxiety is an emotion that can stem from stress and worry and differs from an anxiety disorder. If the former can occur every now and then, the latter is a medical condition. If left untreated, anxiety disorders have the potential to significantly disrupt our lives.

Life events and traumatic experiences rooted in childhood or early adulthood can create panic and anxiety. For instance, abuse and neglect, death, separation, divorce, financial difficulties, and the loss of a home can open the door for anxiety disorders later on. It takes time to recognize these conditions, which tend to develop more in adulthood.  

Feelings of insecurity, lack of ability to face certain events without fear, the feeling of being overwhelmed when becoming emotionally attached to a loved one, or the prospect of the future being unknown and frightening are all common concepts that might get stuck in our minds when we are anxious. An elevated heartbeat, sweating, lack of sleep, increased irritability, and restlessness are all possible signs of an anxiety disorder.

What are the common types of anxiety disorders?

There are various clinical manifestations of anxiety disorders, which can become severe if left untreated. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder may center around “everyday events and problems” and include feelings of worry and tension. A panic disorder may center around having panic or anxiety attacks that include both physical and mental elements, such as heart palpitations or fears of losing control. Agoraphobia, or the fear of open or public places, may accompany or follow panic attacks. It may involve “fears of leaving home, entering shops, [or] crowds” or “traveling alone” on public transportation. 

OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, involves both compulsive and obsessive behavior that disrupts our regular routine, while PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, follows a major traumatic event in our lives. PTSD affects more than 8 million people in the US. 

Clinical depression may also be linked to anxiety disorders. Depression is linked to a consistently low mood and negative thoughts, as well as physical disturbances like insomnia. An anxiety disorder may accompany feelings of depression.

A young man sitting on the floor holding his legs.

How do we experience anxiety disorders? 

Anxiety disorders may interfere with our daily lives, goals, and relationships with people close to us. It’s important to speak with a licensed mental health professional if you think you may suffer from an anxiety disorder or if you have persistent feelings of stress. We may all have different personal experiences of how it feels to live with an anxiety disorder, and those feelings may happen on an emotional and physical level. 

On an emotional level, we may experience a desire for isolation and feel unable to look at life with a balanced perspective. We may feel like our emotions set us apart from others and engage in self-destructive behaviors like alcohol or substance use. We may also distance ourselves from others and isolate ourselves because we are scared of how they may react to our emotions.

On a physical level, we may become sleep deprived if our level of worry becomes high enough and disrupts our normal sleep routine. We may lose or gain weight depending on how we manage our feelings of stress. Anxiety disorders may also result in tension in the neck or recurrent headaches or migraines. We may also struggle with digestive issues, skin dryness, or even hair loss.

Can we treat anxiety disorders without medication? 

For a long time, the default diagnosis for anxiety disorders has been that a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist prescribes therapy, such as through a psychotherapist or counselor, and/or pharmaceutical drugs (i.e. pharmacotherapy). 

The default solutions offered by Western medicine today are: 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that uses psychotherapy to address traumatic events and unwanted emotions with the goal of rearranging how we relate to these key events in our lives. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that focuses on developing personal coping strategies to improve emotional regulation. 

Pharmacotherapy that uses medication such as antidepressants to treat anxiety disorders. 

However, mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises, Metta meditation (a form of loving-kindness meditation that focuses on benevolence, loved ones, and the universe), yoga, and Buddhist practices, are regarded as a powerful way to supplement a treatment plan developed with a mental health professional. Alongside adopting a healthy routine, like eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, and exercising daily in some form, mindfulness may help us along to reaching the goal of leading a less-anxious life. Walking in nature, spending time doing a relaxing activity, or taking care of ourselves or a pet are all easy-to-do mindful techniques. And if we have a creative soul, we can combine these mindful practices with making art as well.

Resources

https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-are-the-five-major-types-of-anxiety-disorders/index.html
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454
https://www.aerzteblatt.de/int/archive/article/200319/The-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-anxiety-disorders
https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/

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