Anxiety: a Resource Page

Dealing with anxiety can be frustrating, isolating, and overwhelming. While a little bit (or even a lot) of occasional anxiety is normal and acts as a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with everyday stress, debilitating anxiety that interferes with activities is recognized as a disorder.

There are more than 100 different symptoms medically recognized as “anxiety.” They run the spectrum from mild to severe, and in some cases can be physically debilitating. Anxiety can manifest itself in all kinds of ways – from feelings of fear and worry to shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness or chills, to burning, choking, or painful sensations.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

“Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated. Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In some cases, these other illnesses need to be treated before a person will respond to treatment for the anxiety disorder.”

There are many kinds of anxiety and panic disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes five: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder).

Anxiety can seem to come out of nowhere. I don’t remember the first time I had a panic attack, but I know that by the time I reached grade school, I was already avoiding certain activities out of the fear of having one. I became so terrified of being outside my comfort zone that I rapidly lost the ability to function in many situations. I stopped trying to spend the night anywhere but in my own bed – even grandma’s house was off limits. I stopped trying to make friends. By the time I was in grade school, the thought of being anywhere without my mom was terrifying, so I refused to go anywhere if she couldn’t go with me. Even school field trips were out.

By the time I was sixteen, I started realizing that the panic was directly related to a need to be in control. Once I got my driver’s license, spending the night away from home was a tenable option, as long as I had a vehicle I could drive. It gave me control over the situation – “I can leave if I want to” became a mantra.

At eighteen I faced my greatest challenge to date: moving away from home. Nervousness about leaving home is normal, but I hadn’t spent more than 48 hours away from my mom in years. When I did, I usually stopped eating, had trouble sleeping, suffered almost debilitating stomach cramps, and constant panic. This was where the wierd nexus of my life converged in a deceptively positive way – as my parents’ hoarding got worse, and the house grew harder to live in, I benefited from a desperate need to escape that gave me the added push I needed to move two states away for college. Once there, I quickly turned to unhealthy solutions for dealing with my anxiety and suffered the consequences, but I had taken an important first step. I learned that change was possible.

More information on anxiety:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

More information on symptoms of anxiety:

http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms.shtml

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