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Anxiety is the human body’s mechanism for coping with a threat or danger that involves the central nervous system. Coupled with fear, we can prepare ourselves for impending danger via the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. When anxiety disorders are present, the discomfort from anxiety and fear cause significant distress or impairment that can disrupt a person’s everyday life. Importantly, these symptoms should not present in the individual due to the use of a substance or as a result of a medical condition.
Anxiety disorders affect many individuals, as the disorder does not discriminate based on age, sex, race, or financial/social situation. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by continuous and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and worry, as well as the sufferer having trouble controlling the worry. This is also known as “free-floating anxiety”. A sufferer of Generalized Anxiety Disorder typically feels restless, irritable, tense, has trouble concentrating, is easily fatigued, has muscle tension and experiences a disturbance in sleeping pattern.
The DSM-5 states that in order to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, one must feel three or more of the six symptoms (more days than not), for the duration of at least six months, in regards to numerous events/tasks.
When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with Major Depressive Disorder, and PSTD stemming from a traumatic event. Public speaking, taking tests, going out in public, etc. have always been tasks that caused overwhelming fear in me. My mom always thought I was just “shy”.
Until my traumatic event, I was never able to vocalize how or why I was afraid of these things. Part of me was even afraid to, because I thought I would get in trouble. My earliest memory of feeling anxiety is when I was 5 or 6 at vacation bible school. I went to a private Catholic school that was affiliated with my church as a child. The majority of my friends went to my church and were also signed up for vacation bible school. I had a lot of fun playing with friends and participating in group activities. Once the end of VBS approached (it only lasted a couple of weeks out of the summer) we had to do a special dance to “Joy to the World” for our parents. When the day came, I looked into the crowd of 50 or so parents/family members and froze. My heart was ringing in my ears and I started to panic. I was so overwhelmed with fear of people seeing me, I hid under a desk and cried until it was over. My parents were so disappointed because they wanted to see me dance with the group and couldn’t understand why I melted down. According to the Psychodynamic perspective, this kind of behavior was probably normal for someone my age, but as I grew older my symptoms lingered and progressed.
After my traumatic event, my anxiety escalated so much that my mom noticed I needed help. I would have numerous panic attacks every week, couldn’t sleep (or overslept, sometimes), and stopped eating. I still suffer from anxiety, although I have (thankfully) overcome my PTSD. Going out in public alone, public speaking (even just making comments in classes, but I force myself to do it), large crowds, embarrassing myself and various other things still scare me. I tried medication at one point, but decided to stick with therapy in order to develop healthy coping mechanisms to ease my anxiety. After 10 years of therapy I find myself doing things I couldn’t before, like ordering food for myself off of the menu, going to social events with friends, and grocery shopping alone. Although I have my bad days, I’ve learned techniques for coping with my anxiety and have even been able to prevent/diminish the frequency of panic attacks. I found the information in class about Generalized Anxiety Disorder very useful. It was very interesting to learn about the different perspectives and how they play a part in my disorder. I find it helpful in understanding and accepting why I feel the way I do, which leads to positive thoughts and healthier methods of coping.
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