Do you seem to worry more than your family or friends? Are your
worries overwhelming? Do they interfere with your life?
While most of us occasionally worry about this, that, and the
other thing, for people with anxiety disorders these worries are
persistent and can be crippling and terrifying.
"Anxiety disorders are subtly disabling," says Catherine L.
Woodman, MD, UI Behavorial Health specialist. "They affect the
sufferers' ability to work and lead productive lives, as well as
their ability to enjoy family and friends. These disorders are often
thought of as part of people's personalities, and it is assumed that
there is no treatment, but effective treatment is readily
Anxiety disorders are categorized into general areas, each with
distinct features. However each disorder is bonded to the other
disorders by the common theme of excessive, irrational fear and
Panic disorder--feelings of terror that strike
unexpectedly and repeatedly without warning. The symptoms are
generally not life-threatening and include pounding heart, shortness
of breath, sweating, dizziness, or feelings of losing control. Panic
disorder is one of the most treatable of the anxiety disorders,
responding to medication and psychotherapy.
Obsessive compulsive disorder--involves anxious thoughts
or rituals you feel you can't control. You feel the need to wash your
hands over and over, or are pre-occupied with order or symmetry, or
spend long periods of time touching things or counting them. There is
no pleasure in carrying out the rituals, only a temporary relief in
completing them. The disorder generally responds to medication and
Post-traumatic stress disorder--a debilitating condition
that can develop following a terrifying event. You may have
persistent frightening thoughts and memories of the ordeal and feel
emotionally numb. Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the
trauma and trigger flashbacks. The disorder generally responds to
medication and psychotherapy.
Social anxiety disorder--involves overwhelming anxiety and
excessive self-consciousness in normal social situations. You have a
fear of being watched and judged by others and may worry far in
advance of a dreaded situation, such as speaking in front of a large
group. The disorder generally responds to medication and
Specific phobias--an intense fear of something that poses
little or actual danger, such as heights, closed-in places, flying,
dogs, or tunnels. The phobia is not just fear, but irrational fear of
a particular thing. Specific phobias are treated with
Generalized anxiety disorder--exceeds the general worry
people experience daily. This worry and tension is chronic and
exaggerated even though there is little or nothing to directly
provoke it. You are constantly looking at the black side,
anticipating disaster. It generally responds to medication.
Anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness in
the U.S., affecting 19.1 million people or 13 percent of adults.
- Anxiety disorders cost more than $42 billion a year, almost
one-third of the U.S. mental health bill.
- General anxiety disorder affects four million people. Women
are twice as likely to be affected.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder affects more than three million
people and is equally distributed between men and women.
- Panic disorders affect more than two million people and again
twice as many women.
- Post traumatic stress disorder affects more than five million
people, with women being twice as likely to be afflicted.
- Social anxiety disorder affects more than five million people
and is equally distributed between men and women.
- Specific phobia affects more than six million people, with
women being twice as likely to be affected.
- Any phobia (agoraphobia, etc.) affects more than 11 million
people--eight percent of the adult American population.
* Anxiety Disorders Association of America. All statistics
represent U.S. populations.
How to help friends or family cope with
- Be stable and consistent. Don't surprise them.
- Let the person set his own pace for recovery.
- Be patient and accepting.
- Support the person as he moves forward in his recovery.
- ...assume you know what the person needs, ask him.
- ...enable avoidance.
- ...sacrifice your own life.
- ...let the person accept or assume he is permanently
- ...say "Relax" or "Calm down."