Anxiety is a very normal part of the human experience. Almost every person feels anxious or nervous before big events in life, like an important job interview, or deciding to start something new. In fact, even smaller events, such as an upcoming exam or a blind date can cause the jitters.
Normal anxiety is actually beneficial. It motivates a person to take action (as in studying for that upcoming exam to calm worries of failure) and makes a person cautious and less reckless. However, normal anxiety comes and goes without affecting a persons life significantly. For about 19 million Americans with an anxiety disorder, it is quite a different story.
When Does Anxiety Become a Problem?
For those with abnormally high levels of anxiety, thoughts can become serious and irrational for no known reason or as a result of some small event. Feelings of fear, worry and dread become normal to them which then impacts negatively on their work or school life, family life and personal lives.
To better discern between normal and chronic anxiety, consider a situation in which two different people are waiting upon a friend to arrive at a restaurant. The friend is half an hour late. A person without an anxiety disorder may assume that his or her friend became stuck in traffic and will arrive as soon as they can. However, for a person with chronic anxiety, simple worry about a friend quickly becomes serious and irrational:
Has my friend been in a car accident? What if she is seriously hurt? Should I call the police? Should I call her family? How will her family react?
These examples are just a few of the racing thoughts going through the mind of an anxiety sufferer. Each thought will become more intense and irrational even after the friend has already arrived.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is a serious disorder that can cripple someone with constant worrisome thoughts. While there are several different types of anxiety, a person is generally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder after having intense feelings of fear, panic or uneasiness for six months or longer.
The cause of anxiety disorder is part of a great debate; however researchers do agree that a genetic predisposition to the disorder is a common link. Symptoms of anxiety usually begin to manifest in childhood and adolescence although adult onset is not uncommon. Furthermore, women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders than men and all ethnic groups are affected equally.
Just as other mental disorders are affected by a chemical imbalance in the brain, anxiety is thought to have this cause as well. The chemicals Serotonin and GABA are areas of great interest for researchers trying to better understand anxiety. In addition to the chemical imbalance, researchers also believe that outside influences play a major role in affecting anxiety. Factors such as the loss of a job, living in a stressful environment or the death of a loved one can all bring on levels of anxiety.
Because of its sensitive physiological nature, anxiety cannot be cured. Not yet.
Anxiety can be managed however with medications and behavioral therapy. Additional methods for managing this disorder also include lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. The first and most important step in managing anxiety is to recognize that a problem exists.
A person who seeks treatment for anxiety has a great chance of living a life that is more normal and fulfilling.