Worry, worry, worry. Fear, fear, fear. Panic, panic, panic. Dread, dread, dread. Got your attention? Hard to say all those words three times quickly? Try living with those emotions on a daily basis. Along with them go physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, rapid pulse, nausea, diarrhea, and dry mouth. People suffering from anxiety problems often feel like their mind and body are out of control. Like they’re stuck on an unpleasant amusement park ride from which there is no escape.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 18% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. That’s 40 million Americans. Adolescents ages 13 to 18 have a 25% rate for anxiety, and 5% for severe anxiety. As many as 80% of adolescents, and 33% of adults either don’t know they have an anxiety problem or don’t get help. That is not acceptable because behavioral health has good treatments for anxiety.
You may be asking yourself, “How is it possible for someone to have an anxiety disorder and not know it?” That’s a great question with a very reasonable answer…they think the symptoms are either a normal part of being a human being or caused by some other medical problem. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America and Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported in 1999 that people with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that about 8% of all ER visits are because of mental health problems, and about 60% of those are because of anxiety and depression. Just start asking around. You’ll be surprised how many people in your social circle have been to the ER with chest pain later diagnosed as anxiety, or know someone who has. If you know someone who works in an emergency room they’ll have lots of stories.
It important to understand that anxiety disorders are extreme forms of normal brain-body-behavior when faced with threatening situations. Your brain constantly scans your environment for threats and quickly acts if a threat is perceived. You feel fear, which heightens your senses and makes you want to fight or flee to escape the danger. There is no logical thought with this part of the brain, only emotions. To think through your feelings, the front part of your brain kicks in. It will either confirm the emotions as real, or help you fight or escape, or decide the threat is not real and start calming you down. It really is a wonderful system.
However, like any complicated system, things can go wrong. Remember, that the anxiety disorders are extreme versions of normal anxiety responses. For example, when you go to bed at night, checking to make sure the door is locked is a good thing. You feel a little anxiety and fear that someone might come in and invade your home. Double checking the lock helps you to logically deal with the fear and you soon calm down and go to sleep. Now imagine if you couldn’t’ make that fear of home invasion go away. No matter how many times you checked the lock it didn’t help.
We all know how good it feels to wash our hands, especially after shaking the hand of someone who was just coughing a lot. We know that warm water and soap, kill and wash away the dangerous germs the other person coughed into their hand. Now imagine you can’t make the fear of getting sick go away no matter how many times you wash your hands.
Hopefully, you’re starting to see the problem from the perspective of people who suffer from anxiety. Maybe you are starting to think about your own anxiety feelings for the first time. If you think you have anxiety problems, or know someone who might get help. With all the treatment options available today, it’s unnecessary to suffer. Highland Springs Clinics are conveniently located and filled with therapists and medical prescribers who are waiting to help. Don’t let anxiety rule your life one more day. Get help with us. There is hope.
B. Todd Thatcher, DO, CMRO
Chief Medical Officer
Valley Behavioral Health