What’s Your Stress Meter Today? Is it Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder?

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Feb 19, 2019

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What is Anxiety? It is a condition of agitation and distress and a subjective state of apprehension and uneasiness. It is a response to a vague, distant or unrecognized danger (internal) Anxiety affects ones whole being: physiological, behavioral and psychological.
Bodily reactions may include rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, queasiness, dry mouth and/or sweating. Anxiety can sabotage ones ability to act and interfere with ones ability to deal with everyday situations. Anxiety is an inevitable part of life in contemporary society and can be an appropriate response. Anxiety disorders are distinguished from normal anxiety in that they involve a more intense reaction and it lasts longer-months instead of going away after a stressful incident and may lead to phobias that interfere with ones life.

Causes of anxiety: heredity, childhood circumstances, changes in brain chemistry, medical conditions or short term triggers. Personality traits that cause or perpetuate it are perfectionism, excessive need for approval or excessive need for control.

Numerous medical conditions can cause anxiety: hyper or hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, COPD, inner ear disorders, vitamin B12 deficiency, mitral valve prolapse and substance abuse. There are different types of anxiety: panic, agoraphobia, social phobia, generalized, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and other specific phobias. In order to be diagnosed one needs to see a doctor and provide their symptoms including length of time one has experienced them. Panic attacks diagnosis requires at least 4 symptoms: examples are shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, fear of losing control, fear of dying. The most prevalent phobia is agoraphobia or fear of open spaces. People fear an inability to escape if one has a panic attack. Social phobia involves a fear of embarrassment or humiliation when one is exposed to the scrutiny of others (public speaking). Generalized anxiety disorder is chronic and persists for 6 months but is not accompanied by panic, phobias or obsessions. One focuses on stressful life circumstances such as finances, relationships or health.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Obsessions are recurring thoughts that seem senseless but continue to intrude ones mind. Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that one performs to dispel anxiety such as wash ones hands repeatedly or check the stove repeatedly.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder- Disabling psychological symptoms develop following a traumatic event. Combat soldiers, rape victims, car accidents or natural disaster survivors are examples of trauma. Symptoms are repetitive, distressing thoughts about the event- nightmares, intense flashbacks or outbursts of anger. Symptoms must persist more than a month. Acute Stress involves anxiety after a traumatic event but disabling symptoms last less than a month.

Treatment is available. A combination of therapy (CBT Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and medications is effective. Coping strategies such as thought stopping, positive self- talk, physical activity, desensitization, visualizing a calm scene are helpful and require practice. In most cases treatment can be outpatient.
Editors Note:This article was submitted by Maureen Rafa BS RN BCPMH, the Community Outreach Coordinator at Metro South Medical Center and may be reached at 708-334-9080 or by email at Maureen_Rafa@Metrosouthmedicalcenter.com

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