Anxiety: Frequent Yet Forgotten
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Health and Wellness

Anxiety: Frequent Yet Forgotten

An overview of the disorder and coping mechanisms

Anxiety: Frequent Yet Forgotten

Anxiety disorders are the nation’s most common mental illnesses, and while they are highly treatable, only about 1/3 of the people affected by them seek treatment. One of the various factors that could contribute to this is that people don’t understand what constitutes an anxiety disorder, or don’t feel comfortable talking about what is going on.

This is why a conversation needs to start happening about mental illness for people to gain an understanding of what affects millions of people.

I use the term 'anxiety' loosely to cover all the disorders that fall under the ‘anxiety disorders’ category. In the DSM-5, there are 12 specific disorders*, the most commonly occurring being Specific Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder. Understanding the differences between these disorders can be an important component in understanding another person.

Specific Phobias

This is a fear of a specific object or situation. These fears are out of proportion to what the situation should warrant. Common phobias are arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and acrophobia (fear of heights). Agoraphobia, the fear of places or situations that could cause panic, helplessness or embarrassment, is listed as a separate disorder in the DSM-5 and is the only phobia that is exempt from this category.

Social Anxiety Disorder

This disorder, sometimes called a social phobia, is when someone has elevated anxiety or fear in social situations. Usually is usually characterized by self-consciousness arising from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others. The common mindset of someone with this disorder is that they will make a mistake and be judged by those around them.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, and is twice as likely in women then it is in men. This disorder is a constant low-lying state of anxiety. It’s continually feeling worried or on edge. People with GAD are often labeled as “worriers” and while this is a slang term for people with this disorder, it is fairly accurate.

GAD is an all-consuming disorder; no moment of the day is left alone – the stream of thoughts is never-ending. This can lead to so many other issues including sleep disorders, other mental illnesses (commonly depression), and even some physical health issues from the consistent quantity of stress.

Panic Disorder

This disorder is characterized by sudden and frequent panic attacks. It feeds itself, meaning that sufferers will have panic attacks and then high levels of anxiety about when the next the attack will happen. This can build to the extreme, where people become so worried about when the next attack will happen that they begin avoiding specific locations or situations where a previous attack happened.

Understanding these disorders is a first step to understanding and helping yourself and others. There are also a lot of different coping mechanisms that can help alleviate these symptoms.

Breathing exercises are a really useful tool for helping someone calm down from a rising sense of panic. A personal favorite of mine is to imagine drawing a box: each inhale, draw one side of the square; each exhale, erase one side of the square. 4 counts in, 4 counts out. Focusing attention on the breath as well as building this mental image can help lower heart rate and refocus one's mind from the panic-inducing situation.

Panic attacks can often bring about dissociation. Dissociation is often described as an out of body experience, meaning that a person loses connection to their own thoughts and sense of identity. Grounding techniques are very effective in helping cope with this. Grounding is used to keep the person in the present and keep their focus on reality. There are lots of different ways to do this. Holding a heavy object and feeling the full weight of it in one's hands is a common way to ground people. It also may be effective to look in a mirror and focus on one's features, or speak out loud to see one's mouth moving and focus on the words being said. For people that feel numb, running one's hands under hot or cold (or alternating between the two) water can bring one back to reality.

This in no way is a complete overview of every anxiety disorder or coping technique, but it is meant to be a list of basics to help start the conversation about anxiety. We shouldn’t be living in a world where something so prevalent is so infrequently talked about for fear of stigmatization.

For a more extensive look at coping mechanism visit this website:

*Please note that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been removed from the Anxiety Disorders category in the DSM-5 and thus will not be included.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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