Anxiety: The Beast Within
If affects more people than you may realize
There's a significant problem lurking out there. It's not flashy, it's not trendy, and it's not talked about very much. It's anxiety.
Anxiety is different than stress. It's more like stress on steroids. People with anxiety frequently feel a sense of doom and dread for no reason, feel afraid, or have full-blown panic attacks during which they feel they are dying, are going "crazy" or are losing control. Anxiety Disorders include difficulties like panic, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders represent the number one mental health problem in the United States. However, we are far more likely to talk about the number two problem — depression. Depression includes feeling of constant sadness, extreme fatigue, loss of concentration and crying. We tend to be more familiar with depression because of the sad rock TV advertisement, or the "depression hurts" campaign, but we rarely see any ads trying to increase awareness of Anxiety Disorders. This is particularly worrisome since research estimates state that at least 23% of us will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in our lifetime. Depression occurs only in about 8-16% of Americans.
Patients report that having an Anxiety Disorder is a lonely experience. Many feel ashamed of their "crazy" thoughts, feel weak if they can't "get over it" or feel as if they are being punished for something they have done wrong. Patients tell me they are often reluctant to ask for help at work out of fear they could be fired because they are "out of control." As a result, most with anxiety disorders hide their feelings and pretend everything is fine. In our clinic, the average patient has suffered from severe anxiety for over 8 years before seeking treatment. Whereas, patients with depression tend to seek treatment within a few months. If untreated, anxiety tends to last most of a person's lifetime, while untreated depression tends to follow a waxing and waning course.
When I speak with patients I like to use the analogy that anxiety is a ferocious monster hiding in the corner. This is a particularly nasty monster because he gets stronger as we get more overwhelmed. Anxiety grows when we feel as if we are drowning and are completely unable to cope and can be prompted by both good and bad events such as death, divorce, and illness. Others will often misunderstand this experience and instead observe, "Gee, he's taking the divorce really hard" and they will also assume that as we heal from the divorce, we will feel better. Unfortunately, this isn't always true. Once the anxiety monster gets stronger, it's hard to push him back down, even when life gets back to normal.
Beyond wanting to hide at home or cry in the bedroom, what should a person with anxiety do? The good news about anxiety is that it is highly treatable. One of the main goals of the anxiety monster is to stop you. Stop you from going to work or the grocery store, or out with friends. In other words—stop you from living life fully. One important way to fight back is to keep living and keep going. While common sense tells us to take a step back when we're overwhelmed, its one of the worst things we can do when suffering from anxiety. The more we retreat, the bigger the problem so the first rule is to forge ahead.
Secondly, exercise is a terrific, lost-cost way to effectively deal with anxiety. While a work out at the gym isn't a cure-all, it's certainly hard to think of something else that takes only about 20 minutes and works so well. My patients tease me about reading too many scientific journals, and am really just a data-nerd but, boy is the data good when you look at the positive effects of exercise on anxiety.
While many other practical solutions exist to address anxiety, some people need professional intervention to find relief. A combination of medications and therapy are the standard of care for treatment. Research shows that the medications most effective for anxiety treatment are the class of anti-depressants known as SSRI's. On the psychotherapy side, the most effective intervention for anxiety is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a practical, hands-on intervention that helps teach sufferers specific skills that can help eliminate anxiety from their lives. The research consistently shows that the combination of SSRI's and CBT is absolutely the most effective intervention for those with anxiety.
Don't suffer alone anymore. Don't let the anxiety steal more of your life away from you. To learn more about anxiety and its treatments visit www.ADAA.org, or www.NVCBT.com. When patients finally find relief from anxiety, they can start living the life they remembered.
Dr. Mark Anderson is a clinical psychologist and founder of the Nevada Center for Behavior Therapy. Prior to moving to Nevada, Dr. Anderson was the Director of the Center for Anxiety Disorders in New York and was the Director for Psychiatry Residency Training at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. When he's not a "data-nerd" or training other mental health professionals, he spends his time with his wife and little girl.