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Hints for Health...When anxiety becomes a problem PDF Print E-mail

By Shaun Meyer
Director-Hi Line Home Health
Anxiety is defined by Webster as “a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill b: fearful concern or interest; an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”
Sounds a little like our everyday lives, doesn’t it? Well, it is… to a certain degree. We all have different personalities and equally different ways that we cope with the stresses of everyday life. The problem arises when these ‘stresses and anxieties’ get out of hand.
In general, anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, apprehension, fear or worry. Some fears and worries are justified and normal, such as worry about a loved one or in anticipation of taking a quiz or test.
The problem comes along when anxiety interferes with the person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to having irritability as a symptom of a number of emotional problems, including anxiety.
Anxiety can occur without a true cause, or it can happen based on a real situation…only it is usually out of proportion to what would be normal. In other words, severe anxiety can have a serious impact on daily life.
There are physical symptoms that can accompany anxiety affecting the heart, lungs, nervous and gastrointestinal systems. You may have an upset stomach, diarrhea, trouble breathing, feel as if you may faint or are having a heart attack.
Problematic anxiety may be caused by a mental or physical condition, the effects of drugs or a combination of all of these. The first thing to rule out is if your anxiety is being caused by a medical condition, and your physician would need to help with figuring that out. Conditions as varied as anemia, asthma attack, infections, drug intoxication or withdrawal or a number of heart conditions can all be associated with anxiety.
There are several mental conditions included in the common types of anxiety:
• Panic disorder. Defined as ‘attacks of anxiety, called panic attacks, common symptoms of panic disorders are stomach upset, palpitations (feeling your heart beat), dizziness, sweating, trembling, sense of choking, chest pain, feeling of being unable to think, fear of dying, numbness or tingling and shortness of breath. These same symptoms also can be caused by caffeine consumption, amphetamines (‘speed’ is the street slang for amphetamines when they are not prescribed by a doctor), an overactive thyroid, abnormal heart rhythms, and other heart abnormalities (such as mitral valve prolapse). The panic attack sufferer may experience their mind going blank or that they somehow do not feel real, in that they feel as if they are looking at themselves from outside of themselves.
• Generalized anxiety disorder. Those who endure this condition experience numerous worries that are more often in the mind of the sufferer than not. Those worries interfere with the person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. Defined as ‘excessive, unrealistic and difficult to control worry over a period of at least six months’. Other symptoms may be restlessness, tiring easily, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep problems.
• Phobic disorders. People with phobias experience irrational fear that may rise to the level of panic attacks in response to a specific thing or situation. Examples of phobias include fears of spiders (that would be me! Ask my office personnel), insects in general, open spaces, closed-in spaces, air travel, heights and social anxiety. These exposures may trigger a panic attack.
• Stress disorders  (also known as post-traumatic stress disorder). Defined as ‘exposure to either death or near-death circumstances such as fires, floods, earthquakes, shootings, automobile accidents or wars; other traumatic events may not have had the threat of death or near-death but resulted in the severe injury or threat thereof. Examples of such trauma include victimization through physical or sexual abuse, witnessing the abuse of another, or over-exposure to inappropriate material (exposure of children to pornographic images or acts); the traumatic event is re-experienced in thoughts and dreams; flashbacks, nightmares, avoiding activities, places or people associated with the event, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, being hypervigilant (closely watching your surroundings), or feeling a general sense of depression, irritability, doom and gloom with diminished emotions such as loving feelings or aspirations for the future.
• Obsessive compulsive disorder. With this condition, the individuals either suffer from intrusive and distressing thoughts (obsessions–worries about germs or having items in a particular order) or engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions- counting items or activities, avoid walking on cracks, avoid touching doorknobs, etc).
Separation anxiety disorder. This disorder most often affects children. It is diagnosed when a child becomes extremely anxious in response to anticipating or being separated from one or more care giving adults (usually a parent).
There are external factors that can cause anxiety such as stress at work, stress from school, and stress in personal relationships such as marriage or friendships, financial stress, stress from an emotional trauma, stress from a medical illness, side effects from a medication, intoxication, withdrawal, or lack of oxygen.
Your physician has an often difficult task of determining which symptoms come from which causes. For example, people with chest pain that could be heart disease, but turns out to be not heart related, often are found to have a panic-disorder–a form of anxiety.
With rampant divorce, layoffs and threat of terrorism, there is plenty of anxiety out there for everyone these days…and the source is often things we cannot change. What you will notice is that when anxiety begins taking a toll on your body, you will know it. When you start having trouble with sleeping, eating and concentrating, you should listen to your body. When it becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with day-to-day activities…when it keeps you from going places and doing things you need and love to do…then it’s time to get help. When people reach this level of anxiety, they are no longer making good decisions. They are avoiding things, and are unable to rise to the occasion because it is just too much.
As I mentioned before, we all have a lot of stress in our lives right now. If you read this information and feel it has become ‘too much’ and has taken over your life, please seek out help.
Definitions: WebMD and Medicine Health.