Anxiety can come in many forms, and not all of it is a disorder. Anxiety is a natural situation in which the body senses a real or perceived threat and responds with heightened sense of awareness, increased pulse rate, and the physical ability to flee from danger. This is a healthy and protective mechanism designed to keep people safe when they are in imminent danger. What happens, though, when those mechanisms begin and there is no real threat?
That’s when anxiety disorders can begin. There are many theories on what causes normal anxiety to morph into a disorder, but some of those include hereditary factors (those who have a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to experience them), a history of traumatic events (such as witnessing a gruesome accident, being abandoned at an early age, the death of someone close), and those who have chemical dependencies such as drug and alcohol addiction, which can alter judgment and change brain chemicals.
Anxiety disorders don’t often receive as much attention as their common counterpart, clinical depression, although the two disorders often occur together and can even be difficult to distinguish from each other. Experts diagnosticians can sometimes have difficulty determining if someone is suffering from anxiety, depression, or both. What is important to know is that anxiety disorders are responsible for as many suicide attempts and successful suicides as depression — and the risk is increased when both occur together. While many types of anxiety disorders may exist, the most common ones are worth educating yourself about, because it’s likely that someone close to you lives with one.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when individuals are anxious and they may not be able to pinpoint why; they are nervous, irritable, and have a general feeling that something is about to go wrong. This can deeply affect their ability to carry on activities of daily living because often their brain is racing, fearing the worst possible outcome of every scenario, and planning how to avoid anxiety-causing situations, which is all but impossible to do. This can interfere with work life, family life, and spiritual, emotional, and physical health, often robbing the person of happiness and causing difficulties with sleep and concentration. This can also make the individual more likely to turn to substance abuse as a means of maladaptive coping.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, is a specific condition that results from one or multiple traumatic incidents that can include things like war, mass shootings, personal assault, sexual assault, natural disasters, or any situation (like home invasion or armed robbery) that causes a person to feel a high level of terror, fear, or pain, according to The Mighty. This condition can affect every minute of every day of one’s psyche and is somewhat harder to treat, because intrusive thoughts and memories often play a key role in PTSD as opposed to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. When The Mighty asked some people to describe what living with PTSD was like, their answers were startling. It may give others insight as to the extreme nature of the illness and why it causes people to behave in certain ways, which can give loved ones an increased understanding and ability to support the person with PTSD.
Nargis D., a person with PTSD, put into words what living with the disorder feels like.
“It’s like you’re tidying your house before a dinner party. But there’s this one item that’s just out of place. The doorbell rings. It’s your guests. You just shove that item into the closet and tell yourself you’ll deal with it later. You start to do this every time. Filling the closest more and more. Saying to yourself that you’ll deal with it later. The closet becomes so full that it starts to creak. That’s your body’s way of saying ‘Hey! You got a lot of stuff to deal with! It’s time!’ But you keep thinking it’s fine. Out of sight, out of mind. You ignore the closet. Until one day it’s too much. The closet bursts. And everything comes flying out in weird and wacky ways. Panic attacks. Dissociative episodes. Depression. Anxiety. Flashbacks. Intrusive thoughts. And then you’re left lying on the floor with all the items that were stuffed into the closet, splattered around you. Forced to finally accept what happened. And forced to finally deal with it. Forced to clean up the items around you and find appropriate places for each thing. And then over time, slowly, you learn what to do with each item, and how to deal with each thing, uniquely.”
Fortunately, new treatments and understanding of PTSD emerge all the time, and it is a highly-studied area of mental health, but that doesn’t mean more awareness isn’t necessary.
What have been your experiences with PTSD or being a loved one of someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD?
[Featured Image by Chris Hondras/Getty Images]