What are Anxiety Disorders?

Worry.  It’s a loaded emotion.  For most of us, it comes and goes but doesn’t linger more than a few hours or days and will always have an identifiable cause.  For the 18% of Americans that have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, worry is more than just an emotion—it’s a constant state of being.  Anxiety is a feeling that plagues every thought, every action, and every relationship and interaction of victims with anxiety disorders.  These disorders could very well have started much like any worry—a tragic or unpleasant event, high levels of stress during a period of time, or other events in an affected person’s life that turns into weeks, months, or even years of ongoing anxiety.  The problem with anxiety disorders is the stigma they carry in our current society.  But when less than 43% of people suffering from an Anxiety Disorder seek treatment… that’s a problem.

Let’s talk about eyesight for a minute.  A lot of people wear glasses or corrective lenses.  Roughly 75% of Americans require some sort of vision correction, with about 30% being far-sighted (needing correction for distance) and about 60% being near-sighted (reading glasses, anyone?).  That means 75% of us are in some way “visually impaired.”  If you are a glasses or contacts-wearer, you probably don’t initially think of yourself as “visually impaired.”  You probably think that term is reserved for those with medical conditions related to the eyes, such as those with cataracts or lazy eye.  So, you’re probably wondering why eyesight is a topic in this blog right now, right?  Well, let’s compare one of the most common impairments in the nation to the most common mental health illnesses in the nation.  If nearly one quarter of our population is suffering from anxiety disorders, why is it still carrying such a negative stigma?  And why are so few of its victims seeking treatment?

Most people that don’t have an anxiety disorder, or don’t personally know someone with an anxiety disorder, don’t understand the power of them.  Many people can just “snap” out of feelings of anxiety.  The trouble is, they expect others to have the ability to do the same.  Let’s go back to eyesight for a second.  Do we condemn the 75% of our population that need vision correct just because they don’t have naturally 20/20 vision?  We need to start changing the way we look at anxiety and other mental health disorders in this country so we can begin to think positively about treatment.

Treatment options vary with these disorders because there are so many types – Panic Disorder, Phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Disorder, etc.  The most common types of treatment involve therapy and medications.

Therapy is a very personal experience.  There are many different approaches to therapy and many different therapists that offer varying degrees of connections with that experience.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one type of therapy used to treat anxiety disorders.  The basic premise behind this model is having the therapist and patient focus on the behavior and attempt to change the way the patient thinks.  Exposure Therapy is another model leveraging exposure to the anxiety trigger for short periods and gradually increasing those exposures over time.  This model aims at desensitizing the patient to that trigger, usually geared towards anxiety disorders involving phobias.  Therapy has proven to be an effective treatment method for many types of mental health disorders, but often require time and the willingness to try a few different approaches (and the patience needed to find the “right” therapist).

Medications are another common treatment method for anxiety disorders.  Working with your doctor is the best way to find a medication that works for you.  Like therapy, there are many different kinds of anxiety medications and what works for some may not work for others.

The biggest thing to remember with anxiety disorders is that you are not alone.  Seeking treatment will help you and your loved ones live a better life.  Join NAMI’s support groups now and let others share their experiences with you!

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