Anxiety: When Should You Worry?

One of several versions of the painting "...

One of several versions of the painting “The Scream”. The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone has a stomach full of anxiety from time to time – from worry about traffic on the freeway to what to get your family for Christmas. Anxiety is a common human emotion that keeps us aware of potential threats in the environment…or in our own personality.

Anxiety is usually defined as unpleasant feelings of concern, worry, uneasiness or apprehension regarding some possible upcoming event. Anxiety may make your heart beat faster and cause muscle tension, fatigue, stomach aches, headaches or even chest pain. It can make you sweat, tremble or feel nauseous.

Anxiety is a normal human response to stress, but when it’s persistent or extreme; it can make life extremely difficult. About 18 percent of Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder ranging from specific phobias to post traumatic stress disorder.

Phobias, or irrational fears are almost universal. A good number of adults retain a few phobias -including snakes, insects, height, closed spaces, tunnels, escalators, water or injuries involving blood.

Fear of Strangers, Separation Anxiety: It’s normal for young children to cling to parents when confronted by new situations or people they don’t recognize. And they many have separation anxiety on the first day of school or even the first day of college. For most teenagers the most powerful anxiety concerns social acceptance.

Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder is more than just shyness. It’s an intense and persistent self-consciousness in social situations – a fear of being watched or judged or of making an embarrassing blunder.

The physical reaction may include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty saying or doing much of anything

Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia: A panic attack is just that-a sudden assault on the body that includes a racing heart, sweating, weakness, dizziness and sometimes smothering sensations or chest pain. Many patients think they are about to die, prompting a trip to the emergency room.

Agoraphobia is typically a panic attack that occurs in the “agora” or public place such as a shopping mall or supermarket. A person with agoraphobia becomes afraid of having another panic attack in that type of environment and eventually comes to avoid many normal activities.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involves persistent upsetting thoughts or obsessions (such as fear of dirt or germs). These obsessions lead to compulsive actions (such as hand washing or cleaning) that are usually performed according to a strict ritual.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common among war veterans but also occurs in others who have witnessed or been a victim of a traumatic incident.

There is a common thread running through all of these anxiety disorders, and several of them may occur together in the same person. Among all mental illnesses, they are the most common. And they are usually very treatable, usually with some combination of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication plus psychotherapy.

For the patient, the hardest step is accepting the embarrassment and the anxiety that often accompanies talking to someone about the concern and getting help.

About Beth Rogers-Doll PhD

Beth graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, is Board-Certified in Psychology and works at Doll & Associates. She works with adolescents, adults, families and couples utilizing a cognitive-behavioral and family systems approach. Areas of expertise include anxiety disorders (Panic, OCD, PTSD, and other trauma-related problems), depression, self-injury, eating disorders, trichotillomania (hair pulling) and marital distress. Also trained in executive coaching and career development, she helps professionals achieve their full potential.

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