“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see. The thing is, because we can’t see it, we don’t know who’s going through what and we don’t know when and we don’t always know why. Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life. “You never know what that person is going through.”
— Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, speaking about his issues with anxiety and panic
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a physiological and emotional response that is out of proportion to a real stressful or potentially dangerous situation. Ultimately, anxiety diminishes a person’s overall health and well-being. It may prevent a person from achieving success in work or school; it often impacts interpersonal relationships. In severe cases, a person may be afraid to even leave their own house. When anxiety symptoms become excessive, prolonged, irrational, or inappropriate, and interfere with the normal functioning of a person’s life, it may be considered an anxiety disorder.
What are the symptoms of Anxiety?
There are many symptoms of anxiety. Somatic or “body” symptoms can include increased breathing rate, gastrointestinal discomfort, muscular tension, perspiration, or a rapid heart rate. Anxiety often negatively impacts a person’s sleep. The spectrum of anxiety symptoms is broad, ranging from vague non-specific feelings seen in a generalized anxiety disorder to overwhelming feelings of fear and distress characteristic of panic attacks.
A person with an anxiety disorder may present with escape or avoidance behaviors. Examples include obsessive-compulsive behaviors that serve to avoid feelings of anxiety (related to tolerating a feared object such as germs or dirt or uncomfortable thoughts). Those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) engage in compulsive rituals to avoid feelings of anxiety. As discussed, in disorders of somatization, anxiety manifests as a physical symptom which allows the person to avoid situations that make them anxious (such as going to work or school). Hypochondriasis and Conversion and Somatization Disorders are examples.
Generalized anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder marked by “free floating anxiety,” with persistent and pervasive feelings of fear or fright. The person experiencing this type of anxiety constantly feels threatened. Symptoms may include muscle tension, twitchiness, an inability to relax, autonomic hyperactivity (increased heart rate and sweating), an upset stomach, and headaches.
A person with generalized anxiety may also experience apprehensive expectations or an anticipation that something terrible is going to occur, but they don’t know what it is. Vigilance of scanning may also be a factor, in which the person has a heightened attention to everything in their environment, often resulting in increased distractibility and decreased concentration. A person suffering from generalized anxiety experiences a chronic state of hypervigilance and tension without any clear source or focus.
Panic Disorder is comprised of very intense panic attacks of short duration (minutes to a few hours). A person experiencing a panic attack feels as if they are going to faint or even die. Symptoms may include chest pains, heart palpitations, hot and cold flashes, feelings of unreality, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
It should be noted that it is extremely rare for anyone experiencing a panic attack to actually faint or blackout. With a panic attack, like generalized anxiety, a person cannot identify a specific reason for the panic. It feels as though it comes out of nowhere, making it even more terrifying.
Phobias are persistent and recurrent fears of a particular situation, object or activity. A person experiencing a phobia cognitively understands it is irrational, but they cannot stop the feelings around it.