Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. (adaa.org)
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. However, when it takes on a life of its own, it becomes an unhealthy, generalized reaction that affects the body and mind.
I like to explain anxiety to my clients by starting with a refresher on the biology of fear.
When you are afraid, your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your muscles and brain. Your lungs take in air faster to supply your body with oxygen. The pupils in your eyes get larger so you can see better, and your digestive and urinary systems slow down, for the moment, so you can concentrate on more important things. All this happens so that you can fight off danger, run away from danger, or hold very still. (AKA. Fight, Flight or Freeze). These biological responses have been hard-wired into your system so that you can survive a danger that is present.
A threat stimulus, such as the sight of a predator, triggers a fear response in the amygdala, which activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight. It also triggers release of stress hormones and sympathetic nervous system.
However, fear and anxiety are a little different. Anxiety is your physiological response to your thoughts about a perceived danger.
So, what’s a perceived danger? It’s pretty much a subjective judgment that we make about the characteristics and severity of a risk. (Whaaaaaaaaaat does that mean?)
It means, that you and I think lots of thoughts. We tell ourselves lots of stories with our thoughts. We try to figure out how things are going to turn out with our thoughts. We try to stay ahead of pain with our thoughts. This causes anxiety.
Here’s an example I use in my office all of the time:
If a bear walks into my office, both my client (let’s call her Sally) and myself will undergo a physiological process (see above description of fear response and threat stimulus) so that we can fight the bear, we can run away from the bear or we can sit really still (and hope the bear doesn’t eat us).
However, if I say to Sally, “Hey Sally, do you think you might want to go hiking this Saturday?” and Sally starts thinking, “What if we see a bear?” her body will undergo a very similar process to prepare for the danger of the bear (see above description of fear response and threat stimulus). Now, Sally’s stuck in her seat, with no bear to fight off, but her body has gotten all ready to deal with this bear (a threat stimulus) that’s not actually present.
Sally is anxious because she is thinking about the perceived danger, and her body has prepared to deal with it!
Ok, so how does this relate to you if you are anxious but not thinking about bears?
Your anxiety is a manifestation of your thoughts that surround a perceived danger to you.
This means you may feel anxious if you think about losing your job, and your internal story leaves you threatened by this loss (not able to pay rent, buy food, etc).
This means you may feel anxious if you are getting close to a romantic partner and fear the threat of a broken heart (emotional pain). Perceived dangers can be anything you fear could cause you pain.
Luckily, anxiety is highly treatable. By understanding your thought processes (and, occasionally, the beliefs that underlie these thought processes), you can begin to regulate your anxiety by regulating your thoughts. This, in turn, regulates your body.
If you are suffering from anxiety and could use some support and/or tools, please feel free to contact our office. We are here to help!
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression.
Panic Disorder (PD)
PD affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
SAD is equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13. According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
Emery Counseling is here to help you with your anxiety. Our office is available to talk about the finding the right therapist for you, (970) 490-1309 x. 0 You can also book online at www.emerycounseling.com