Anxiety: Impairment, symptoms and coping solutions

How bad is it to have anxiety?

Anxiety is a persistent and cruel disorder that affects more people that one might suspect.  It is indeed a widespread issue in our society. If not treated timely, and may I add –  properly, it can severely inhabit an individual’s day-to-day functioning by impacting his/ hers personal and/or professional life. The stats regarding anxiety are nothing less than jaw dropping. Data from the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R) survey performed by the Harvard Medical School in 2007 found that “an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives”. In reference to impairment, 22.8% among the adults who suffer from an anxiety disorder had a severe impairment and 33.7% had moderate impairment (Harvard Medical School, 2007). Consider that for a moment – more than 50 % of the individuals who took part of the study reported considerable impairments in their work/life functioning due to an anxiety disorder!

Common misconceptions

Anxiety disorder is just feeling a little “nervous” or “stressed”, right? Actually, that is incorrect. In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, individuals must have a number of symptoms present. The duration and the severity of the symptoms are also important. Feeling a “little” nervous because you couldn’t come up with the “right” answer during that conference call this morning is one thing. Feeling excessively worried most of the time for at least 6 months, and not being able to fall or stay sleep is surely a cause for concern and will have clinicians inquiring if you’ve experiencing any other relevant symptoms.

The cause of anxiety disorders is still unknown although there’s quite a bit of data available showing a  biological and chemical link. The brain’s amygdala and hypothalamus are important components when processing data while under stress.  Similarly, your neurotransmitters do not stay idle either. Deficiency of the GABA and serotonin neurotransmitters is believed to make it impossible for the individuals to control the overwhelming feeling of worry (Nuss, 2015).

Recognize the symptoms

There are several anxiety disorders, the most common of which are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (also called Social Phobia).

By the way, this list is by no means all-inclusive; it simply outlines the most common anxiety disorders recognized by the general population. Okay you may say, so what are the symptoms? The answer is… it depends.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5 ) aka “the Bible” of all mental health gurus, gives us a glimpse into some of the symptoms. I want to caution you however, do not diagnose yourself with these. If you have concerns or questions, the best approach is to get in touch with a specialist.

For instance, below are just a few of the criteria (not all!) of GAD

  • Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge.
  • Being easily fatigued.
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle tension
  • The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse,a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

Coping skills and treatment

Depending of the severity of the symptoms, there could be several options available for those trying to cope with their anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy is a common treatment that people can turn to in conjunction with medication management (this is especially true for those suffering from more complex trauma such as PTSD). If you are being treated by more than one clinician, it is important to inform them so they can work together and brainstorm best possible solution/s for your plan of care. Medications are often helpful, but as a mental health professional I firmly believe that psychotherapy is also a powerful and effective treatment option to battle the negative effects that anxiety (or for that matter any other mental illness) can have on a persons life.