Anxiety disorders, as well as mental illnesses in general, have historically been treated with less importance than other diseases, partly due to its effects manifesting more on the mind than on the physical body. “Anxiety comes in waves, and managing the disorder means learning coping tools and strategies to help surf those waves rather than expecting the waves to disappear entirely.” says a licensed mental health counselor Caitlyn McKinzie Bennett.
Unlike other illnesses where other people can clearly see the effects, the psychological effects of anxiety are more difficult to sense. We cannot easily peer into the minds of others and exactly feel what others with anxiety feel. “Anxiety often happens during the worst possible times, and can be quite difficult to get under control once it’s gotten a hold of you.” Mallorie Potaznick, LMHC says, therefore, many people who have healthy minds cannot imagine what it feels to have uncontrollable anxiety, making it harder for them to empathize and to truly understand.
However, we are starting to gain a deeper understanding of how anxiety can affect the mind. Psychology is an actively growing field, and modern technology has provided us with powerful tools to observe and analyze the human brain. By knowing more about how the anxious mind operates, people can truly understand the necessity of devoting more resources to the treatment and prevention of anxiety disorders.
What Anxiety Feels Like
Anxiety is characterized by amplified feelings of fear and dread, to the point where daily life is adversely affected. People with anxiety disorders have difficulty in concentration, may be triggered even by arbitrary stressors, and regularly suffer from panic attacks. They may worry severely enough that they are unable to focus on other thoughts, and they may also have negative sentiments about themselves or other people.
However, anxiety is more than just severe fear.Dr. Romas Buivydas, PhD, LMHC said “It identifies and addresses traumatic experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural coping capacity, and, as a result, have created traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks or anxiety, or harmful coping strategies, such as isolating behavior and self-medication with alcohol or drugs.” People with anxiety may still be extremely worried even when there is no apparent stressor. Anxiety is unlike fear, where the object causing the panic is readily determined and often tangible. This peculiar characteristic of anxiety has led many to believe that anxiety is nothing more than melodramatics, but the lack of an apparent cause does not mean that the effects on the mind are not real. If left unchecked, anxiety can cause real damage to the person’s psyche.
A major psychological risk factor in developing an anxiety disorder is the perceived lack of control over a situation. When people feel they have control over a perceived threat, they can focus more on crafting a strategy to defeat the threat.
However, when people feel that they are helpless, their emotions can overwhelm them, causing anxiety. Unable to fight back against the threat, the fight-or-flight response, an ancient mechanism that helps us deal with them, forces us to do something about the danger. This prompt can overload the mind with stress, further preventing the person from acting appropriately.
Also, perceived control is different from actual control. What people feel like they can handle matters more than what they can actually handle based on their mental disposition. People may come up with different assessments of control, so many may find it hard to understand why anxious people feel that they have no control over their lives. Hence, merely telling people with anxiety that they can control their situation is not enough.
Situational Assessment And Distorted Beliefs
Human minds continuously assess the current situation and the environment to come up with conclusions. Such situational assessment is essential in detecting threats, deciding if any action is needed, and coming up with an action plan.
People with anxiety disorders have trouble in reaching accurate assessments, as they tend to overestimate the severity of these threats, leading to unnecessarily high levels of stress. They may also come up with distorted beliefs about their current situation, treating even the smallest stressors as big-time hazards. Their distorted view of the world can make them vulnerable to even more mental disorders.
However, despite everything that has been said, people have no right to blame those suffering from anxiety disorders for the plight. Such disorders are illnesses, and like any other disease, they deserve to be taken seriously. By becoming more aware of the inner workings of the anxious mind, perhaps people can show more compassion and understanding for people with anxiety.