We’ve all experienced momentary events of anxiety – rushing to work, preparing for a job interview, concern over a mother’s illness and the like. But when anxious feelings take over, occupy our thoughts, interfere with sleep and the ability to concentrate, that’s an anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety manifests as avoidance of situations that put us on public display and provoke fear of being criticized, embarrassed or humiliated.
Panic disorder is expressed in the form of intense, overwhelming and uncontrollable feelings of anxiety associated with physical symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain. Perhaps there is even fear of sudden death.
Individuals with phobias may fear and avoid medical appointments, flying in an airplane or driving on freeways.
Obsessive-compulsive disorders are another form of anxiety. In fact, persons with OCD attempt to relieve their symptoms by performing recurrent acts to treat the emotional discomfort. The classic of course is fear of germs and repetitive hand washing.
Finally, post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the year’s PTSD has gone by various forms and definitions. Following the events of World War I, over 100 years ago, it was described as “shell shock.” After World War II it gained the name “battle fatigue.” We now understand it as the psychological impact associated with emotional, sexual and physical trauma.
In recent years, PTSD has been further refined in the subsets of adverse childhood experiences and adverse adult experiences.
The psychological trauma inflicted by PTSD may be personal or witnessed. For example, witnessing a motor vehicle crash may have as much or more psychological impact as being in the car that actually crashed.
For persons with PTSD, flashbacks and reliving the experience are particularly powerful and may lead to avoidance behavior, relationship dysfunction, major depressive disorder, sexual dysfunction and generalized anxiety disorder.
The most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders is psychotherapy otherwise known as cognitive behavioral therapy. Because anxiety disorders often coexist with depression, antidepressant medications may be effective. In general, anti-anxiety medications in the form of benzodiazepines like lorazepam, Valium, Ativan and Librium should be used sparingly if at all.
And remember this. Trauma is in the mind and experience of the traumatized; all forms of adult and childhood adverse experiences – sexual, financial, emotional, and physical are powerful and cumulative. When repeated in one or all of the various forms, childhood and adult adverse experiences may lead to impaired personal and social functioning, drug abuse; depression and anxiety resistant to treatment as well as criminal and anti-social behavior.
We call this mental illness.
Health and Human Services, 2014. What are the five major types of anxiety disorders. Online [available at]: https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-are-the-five-major-types-of-anxiety-disorders/index.html Accessed April 21, 2019.
Stumbo, S. et al, 2015. The impact of adverse child and adult experiences on recovery from serious mental illness. Online [available at]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673039/ Accessed April 21, 2019.