By: Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times
If you live long enough, every human being will experience good times, as well as times they would rather forget. There is some truth to the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If we value wisdom, we can learn and adapt from all of life’s adventures.
However, some of life’s twists and turns can lead us into some dark places that can leave lasting mental scars. Whether these incidents are mildly disturbing or downright dangerous, we must learn to recognize and deal with them constructively, with or without professional assistance.
If you’ve ever felt uneasy when confronted with a situation – such as taking a test at school, speaking in public, or competing in sports – you are probably experiencing anxiety. Anxiety causes a person to worry and experience fear, apprehension or nervousness.
Some levels of anxiety are a normal, even necessary, part of life. In fact, the anxiety response known as “fight-or-flight” has helped keep humans instinctively safe from danger since the dawn of creation. The brain responds to danger by releasing the hormone adrenaline, which prepares a person either to physically confront or flee from potential threats to safety.
According to the American Psychological Association, the anxiety response moves to the level of a mental disorder when the triggering circumstance recurs and intrudes on one’s ability to function normally. This disorder often is accompanied by physical symptoms, such as nausea, breathing difficulty, restlessness, insomnia, and increased blood pressure.
Anxiety disorders fall into several types:
• General anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic (ongoing) disorder involving long-lasting worries about nonspecific events, objects or situations. GAD is the most common anxiety disorder, and it is also one of most difficult to identify because the person cannot always readily identify the true source of their distress.
• Panic disorder, or panic attack, is characterized by brief or sudden episodes of intense terror or apprehension, which can lead to dizziness, mental confusion and body tremors. Panic attacks can last for a few minutes or several hours, and usually occur after a frightening experience of prolonged stress.
• A phobia is an irrational fear and avoidance of a specific situation or object.
• Selective mutism is a disorder experienced often by children in unfamiliar surroundings. It can cause a person to become unable to speak or to stutter.
• Social anxiety disorder is a fear of negative judgment by others or of public embarrassment. Social anxiety disorder can include a range of situations, such as stage fright, fear of humiliation and/or rejection, and fear of intimacy.
• Separation anxiety disorder happens when a person is taken away from a person or place that makes them feel safe or secure.
Just as life is complicated, the causes of anxiety disorders are complicated and varied. They include environmental factors, such as difficult relationships, difficulty at work or with family members; brain chemistry issues in which hormones and electrical signals in the brain are misaligned; medical factors, such as symptoms of other diseases, the effects of medications, or the stress brought on by an intensive surgery or prolonged recovery; genetic factors; and withdrawal from the use of illicit drugs or alcohol.
Treating anxiety disorder can involve a combination of therapy, counseling, and medication. One can also practice certain self-help regimens, such as relaxation and yoga. Maintaining an active lifestyle with a balanced diet is also important to keep anxious emotions within healthy limits.