Anxiety Disorders: True Stories of Survival

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The anxiety this caused me was not obvious — it was what I referred to as silent anxiety. I felt like everything I had worked for was all a waste. But at the same time, I felt free for the first time in my life. I am now a sophomore at a college that I love and belong at. Morgan, New York. Being seen as different spurred feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem in some readers. They became more optimistic, however, after discovering support systems that embraced their true selves. Growing up, I was an anxious child and teenager because I happened to be born transgender.

At the elite, church-affiliated private schools I attended, boys were intolerantly expected to imitate macho men. How I wished that others knew me as the girl I felt myself to be! What I really needed was informed medical intervention and compassionate emotional support. Today, I have these blessings. I am known and appreciated for myself, and my adult friendships are deeply satisfying and rewarding. I take estrogen and antidepressants, and enjoy feminine voice lessons and good books. I increasingly see myself as a good person — one worthy of love and success, despite my imperfections.

Morgan, Madison, Wis. As a low-income student at an Ivy League school, I was struck by how crippling my anxiety was for the first few months. When I failed my first science exam, all my fears were confirmed. It was only when I voiced my emotions to my adviser that I began to feel less alone. I still feel the anxiety creeping in before exams, when the familiar suffocating feeling returns, and I have to remind myself that my entire future is not dependent on one exam.

Sarah, Providence, R. I was also a straight-A, highly involved student who developed anxiety. But eventually the dam broke. My grades plummeted, and I began nursing suicidal thoughts. I finally went to my general physician and was told it was an effect of anxiety, so I went to a neurologist to get a second opinion and was told the same thing.

I refused to accept the diagnosis at first — I remember saying to a friend that I wish the doctor had told me I had a brain tumor instead. Neurosurgery was a more appealing prospect to me than therapy and medication. Despite these obstacles, I still feel hopeful for the future. I am currently living at home and taking a break from school. If I had known more about the illness years ago, I might have asked for help sooner.

Nancy, New York. These are constant facts of life. It is not increasing. It has always been like this. The authors believe that the perception of a new wave of mental health issues may be an illusion, concluding that "the true size and burden of disorders of the brain in the [European Union] was significantly underestimated in the past. Another paper concludes that "it is difficult to find reliable evidence for a change in prevalence rates for anxiety disorders.

Epidemiologic data obtained before the introduction of psychiatric classification systems [ The study authors note that "the rate of treatment-seeking individuals increased, which may be the reason for the general impression that these disorders are more frequent. To add to the already complicated mix, anxiety disorders have a genetic factor. Researchers think that 30—50 percent of the variation in anxiety disorders within a population is down to our genes. Levels of a condition that has a heritable component are likely to be more stable, since the prevalence of those genes won't change much across a few decades or even centuries.

Whether the upward trend is real or imagined, there is no question that anxiety is dominant in the U. Before we dive into the next section, we must make clear that there is no definitive answer to this question. Many people have offered insight, be it backed up by evidence or not. The answer is likely to be complex in the extreme and a mishmash of all facets of modern life and societal pressures.

No two people are the same; no two people's experiences are the same; no two people's experience of anxiety is the same. That said, there is a range of theories that attempt to explain why anxiety might be creeping steadily into the foreground. As we have seen, the number of people in wealthier societies who have an anxiety disorder is surprisingly high. However, it's worth noting that many people who experience daily anxiety may not meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder but are still affected. These people are harder to quantify; they fly under the radar, not enduring enough psychological discomfort to join the GAD ranks but still feeling its force.

If a family member or friend gets into an accident, anxiety convinces me it's my fault for not wishing them a safe journey. Below are a few theories that have been kicked around by people interested in how anxiety might develop. Some say that humans in Western societies are becoming more psychologically sensitive because there is less pressure on us to survive now that food and water are so abundant. They believe that our gaze has moved away from survival and shifted inward. They argue that we now focus on extrinsic desires, such as a new car and a big house, rather than intrinsic desires, including the joy of family and friends, and meeting with others in the community.

This all sounds like it may be difficult to pin down with research, but some scientists have come to similar conclusions. One study published in the s found that people who pursued money, looks, and status were more likely to feel anxious and depressed. A study looking at changes in freshman attitudes over a year period found that the number of students who place importance on financial gains has almost doubled since the s, whereas "developing a meaningful philosophy for life" has dropped in importance dramatically.

13 Stories That Perfectly Embody What Anxiety Feels Like

A meta-analysis that investigated increased psychopathology in U. Motivations are drifting away from the community and onto the individual. Materialism is paramount in modern society. It's impossible to draw a straight line between these shifts in culture and anxiety, but some are tempted to do so. Not being able to concentrate at work, in turn, makes me feel anxious about other people's perception of my performance and feeds the cycle.

OCD: one patient's story

People today are much more likely to live alone than they were 50 years ago. In the U. Could this be playing a part? Of course, many people are incredibly happy to live alone — others, however, are not. Loneliness has received a great deal of interest over recent years and has been discussed as a potential risk factor for depression and Alzheimer's , among other conditions. Although depression and anxiety disorders are separate conditions, individuals with depression commonly experience similar symptoms , such as nervousness.

13 Stories That Perfectly Embody What Anxiety Feels Like | HuffPost Life

Social anxiety disorder often appears in tandem with major depression. In fact, those who go on to develop depression often develop an anxiety disorder earlier on in their life. Anxiety also sometimes occurs as a part of the mood changes that take place in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer's. Loneliness can also worsen symptoms for those with chronic pain, a condition that often brings anxiety in tow. Similarly, being in a state of high anxiety can increase the level of perceived pain, thereby creating a vicious cycle; if someone is in pain, they feel anxious, and anxiety drives the pain.

It seems that social isolatation could potentially increase anxiety through a number of pathways. To muddy the waters further, some people who experience high levels of anxiety choose to live alone. So, the higher number of people living alone may be part of the cause and effect of an increase in anxiety levels in the West. Perhaps there's something in the water?

What is GAD?

That sounds a little conspiratorial, but we shouldn't dismiss it out of hand. There certainly is an unwieldy range of chemicals in the environment we inhabit. A literature review — published in — assessed the evidence that chemicals in the environment might influence the developing brain while we are in the womb. Poring over existing research, the scientists investigated chemicals well-known to be poisonous such as lead , chemicals that have been considered dangerous only in recent decades such as methylmercury , and compounds that are only now being studied for potential toxicity including certain ingredients in plastics.

Of the chemicals they tested, only two were linked with anxiety, specifically.

These were phthalates and bisphenol-A, both of which are used in the production of plastics. However, the findings were inconclusive, and the relevant studies that they analyzed produced contradictory results. A large BMJ study involving more than 70, female nurses drew links between air pollution and anxiety. To reach this conclusion, the researchers estimated long-term pollution exposure and compared it with data from an anxiety questionnaire.

They found that those who had higher levels of exposure were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety. This area of research is notoriously difficult to unpick; humans are never exposed to just one single chemical. We are all bathed in a cocktail of varying composition; a cocktail whose ingredients change across the days, months, and years. It will be a long time before even semisolid conclusions can be made about environmental chemicals and anxiety. Some others have looked to the impact of social media on mental health. After all, social media has flooded society so thoroughly in such a short space of time, it is highly unlikely to have had no impact at all.

Facebook was founded in ; today, almost 1. For instance, one that investigated social media use, sleep, and mental health in over Scottish adolescents revealed that those who used social media the most, particularly at night-time, had lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression. Another investigation surveyed more than 1, young U. The researchers compared the number of social platforms used with levels of anxiety and depression.

People who frequented higher numbers of social platforms reported higher levels of depression and anxiety. Another study on 18—year-olds came to similar conclusions. Before we throw Facebook and their staff to the lions, we need to remember that cause and effect cannot be established in the vast majority of these studies. It is possible that an anxious person seeks solace in social media.

Perhaps it's not that social media causes anxiety, but that social media is attractive to those who are already anxious. And I no longer live in fear. With all that said, GAD can be an ominous shadow, lurking in the corner and threatening to materialize into a real-life villain.

Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise?

Some days, it creeps back into my life. I constantly stress over making the wrong decision. The choice is too much. In particular, I startle easily, which is simple for outsiders to observe. In the grips of GAD, it can take me hours to fall asleep. These are the times when my loved ones know to be extra patient, extra supportive, and extra kind, while I rein in the beast. GAD can be scary.

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It makes life downright terrifying for those of us who live with it, and it can make life very frustrating for our relatives and caregivers. With treatment, people with GAD can live full, normal lives free of the small terrors that plagued our everyday lives. I manage it. It takes some medication tinkering and therapy, but I am a fully functional, worry-level-normal person, despite my early onset, severe GAD. Help is possible. You just have to reach out and find it. Elizabeth Broadbent cohabitates with three small boys, three large dogs, and one patient husband. She likes reading adolescent literature, making art of various kinds, doing research, and homeschooling her sons.

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