Mind games: Anxiety’s mental and physical toll

02/16/2013 | By 

I hear it all the time: “You worry too much.” Trust me, I know. Since high school (and probably even before that), I have been a class act worry-wort. It’s something I’ve come to perfect with lots and lots of practice, but not necessarily on purpose. I don’t make it a goal to think about things I can’t control every single day, it just comes naturally. The crazy thing is for me, I know that these are things I cannot change. I consider myself to be a relatively bright, rational person, however, these thoughts are often stronger than rationale and I get sucked into their black hole. This worrying has revealed to me that I am: a) a terrible liar, and b) a great actress. Meaning, if I don’t want you to know that something is bothering me, you will never know. If I don’t mind that you know, it is written all over my face.
I’ve never considered myself to have an anxiety disorder of any sort (possible denial), I simply insist that I just care too much. I do know individuals who do have anxiety issues and are on treatment for them; there are many ways to cope and deal with them depending on the severity. It can manifest and hijack itself into thoughts over the most basic or the most extreme of circumstances: an upcoming test, a social confrontation, a misplaced phone, a life change. There are also a wide range of anxieties, from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My list of worries waxes and wanes depending on the day, circumstance, upcoming events, etc. Some things are ridiculous and worried to death in my head, and others not so much. But, there you have it. While I understand my worries and can assess and cope with them, others have a greater deal of difficulty.
anxiety definition
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older. That is roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population. These disorders can come in all shapes and sizes and have a magnitude of mind and body effects.
This is a range of anxiety disorders on the ADAA website:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) — People with GAD often exaggerate worry about money, health, family, work or other issues. They are overly concerned and worry excessively about a variety of everyday problems, often expecting the worst even when there is no need for concern. This is diagnosed when these sypmtoms are present for at least 6 months.
  • GAD affects 6.8 million adults (3.1 percent of the U.S. population). Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — People with OCD suffer from unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try and ease their anxiety.
  • OCD affects 2.2 million (1 percent of the population). Equally common among men and women. Hoarding is a component of OCD.
Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.
  • Panic disorder affects 6 million (2.7 percent of the population). Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Very high comorbidity (two or more coexisting medical conditions or disease processes that are additional to an initial diagnosis) rate with major depression.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — PTSD is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events. People with PTSD continue to be severely depressed and anxious for months or even years following the event.
  • PTSD affects 7.7 million (3.5 percent of the population). Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Social Anxiety Disorder – It’s the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. This disorder is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder affects 15 million (6.8 percent of the population). Equally common among men and women, typically beginning around age 13.
Specific Phobias – People who experience these seemingly excessive and unreasonable fears in the presence of or in anticipation of a specific object, place, or situation have a specific phobia. The fear may not make any sense, but they feel powerless to stop it.
  • Specific Phobias affect 19 million (8.7 percent of the population). Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
anxietyAnxiety disorders can wreak havoc not only on the brain, but can also present in physical manifestations as well. Involuntary and unwanted, these uncontrollable effects can include: sleep disorders (insomnia), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, substance abuse, chronic pain, stress (which can be devastating to the mind and body in other ways), and eating disorders. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
To cope with worry and anxiety disorders, there are many methods and resources that may work. It’s finding out what works for you. Seeking help may be a big step for some, but if it can have beneficial long-term effects, it’s in your overall physical and mental well-being to do so.
Therapy. Personally, I have done a few things that have really helped. One of the greatest things I did for me was talk with a therapist. Honestly. Some of the people in my life didn’t agree with it, but I found it immensely helpful and healing, and discovered more about myself. The key is finding the right therapist. I haven’t gone to therapy for a long time now, but it did help when I needed it.
Exercise. Need another reason to work out? Here it is. I can sincerely say I am a much more balanced, mentally-at-ease person when I consistently work out. It releases stress and gives me those endorphins that I absolutely love. A hard work out always makes the world seem easier to deal with.
Meditation. I have never been good at this. It works wonders for some people, and may even be beneficial to me. I just seem to find different outlets to help. Relaxation techniques and yoga can calm the mind as well. Listening to music can also be meditative.
Eat well. Bottom line. Anxiety can lead to under eating, overeating, cravings, and binge eating. Eating healthy and well helps maintian the body and prevent additional physical manifestations.
Additional methods may include limiting caffeine intake (I’m going to go ahead and veto that one for me), joining a support group, talking with family and friends, adequate sleep, and learning what triggers the anxiety. The first step if something is bothering you enough is to talk with a doctor.
We all have our worries, whether it’s test anxiety, income, a loved one, or hoping your dog didn’t eat another pair of your underwear. While some matters may seem simple, others may have a hard time grasping and coping with them. There’s nothing shameful about it. Don’t minimize another’s worries and issues, reasonable or not, but don’t let your own run your life if you can help it.
I should probably take my own advice about this, but first I’m going to worry about getting this post edited, adjusted, and published on time while I drink another cup of coffee.

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