Anxiety and anxiety disorders: There is a difference

“Man is not worried about real problems so much about his imagined anxieties about real problems.”

Epictetus, 50 AD – 135 AD

Greek Philosopher

Anxiety by definition is a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill, whether that ill be rational or irrational. Anxiety is very often associated with the thoughts and feelings of fear, worry, and frustration.

Over the past two weeks we have been witness to the worry, fear, the angst; anxiety that many people experienced during the election process and inauguration of our new President; examples of founded and unfounded anxiety. The course of this new President may or may not change the lives of many individuals, but most probably toward the better dependent on whether or not his promises hold true; promises to ease the anxiety that many people have toward events that touch their lives daily.

We also have been witness to the anxieties of those involved in the “women’s marches” this past week, women acting on their emotions over their intellect in hope of reining in their angst…vulgarity and disdain permeated the air; there appeared to be much “Free Floating” anxiety among the participants.

Yes my friends, many in our society today are ruled by their perceived and factual anxieties.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we have all experienced at one point or other in our lives. As one of my most favorite and famous authors, Mark Twain, once wrote: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” We may have felt anxious about job security, economic problems, taking care of our family, etc.

It is only when anxiety begins to rule our lives that an anxiety disorder takes hold; it may develop in children as well as adults. An Anxiety Disorder is an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (such as sweating, tension, and increased heart rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about ones capacity to cope with it.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the manual used by physicians and mental health practitioners to diagnose Mental Illness, tells us that Anxiety Disorders are associated with many characteristics and forms; from continuous worry with difficulty controlling the worry, to external difficulties brought on by external forces such as Post Traumatic Stress. Anxiety Disorders take the forms of Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia (and other types of phobias), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorders, and General Anxiety Disorders. Individuals suffering from Anxiety Disorders live day to day with the persistence worry and fear that anxiety provokes.

During my lengthy career of working with individuals with mental illness, and their families, in both in-patient and out-patient settings; we had many with Anxiety Disorders. Take the case of Rafael whom suffered from acute and chronic Panic Attacks. He described his having panic attacks while driving to work…he felt as though he was having a heart attack, and drove himself to the emergency room, where he became completely immobilized until receiving relief.

Rafael also told me the worst feeling he ever, ever had was attempting to hold back a panic attack around other people; which reminded me of a quote on the same subject by an anonymous author. Or the case of Juanita, whom had a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

One of her rituals she performed was to walk through any doorway three times lest she have something terrible happen to her. Or consider the case of Jerry, diagnosed with Agoraphobia, whom had great fear of leaving his home, of being around other people; he suffered extreme loneliness. And I remember vividly George whom suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and his having flashbacks to the rice paddies of Vietnam whenever it rained or he heard the sound of helicopters overhead.

So many of our children also suffer from Anxiety Disorders as well…the persistent fear associated with going to school, of being with other children, etc.

I have also been witness to the many, many individuals who have recovered, or have been in recovery, from their Anxiety Disorders. With individual and group therapies and appropriate medication, many go on to live productive and meaningful lives. One remarkable thing I discovered in my many years of providing counseling therapies is that most individuals need help in overcoming loneliness…from being ostracized by others, by not really knowing how to interact with other people, problems accepting positive criticism and empathy from others, etc.

And it became remarkable also to see them accept their condition and deal with it in a constructive manner. To quote Mark Twain again, “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.” I found this to be a truism for those with Anxiety Disorders and other mental illnesses; when they internalized self-acceptance became comfortable with themselves, then they truly could begin change in their lives; the recovery process.

Now, back to the election process of our new President. Often, in gathering information for my articles, I go out into the community. This morning as I was at the super market, waiting for my wife to finish the shopping, I conducted a very “informal Survey” of passer-by’s (young and elderly adults of varying ethnicities) in a most bipartisan way; asking the specific question: “Do you have any anxiety concerning Donald Trump being our President?”

Of the many individuals and couples asked the question, of who were most cordial in their responses, a clear majority answered “no.” One individual related to having anxiety about the election results and was most certainly having difficulty…exhibiting the signs and symptoms of anxiety with many unfounded faulty assumptions. She presented as being most “uncomfortable with herself.”

This was not a very scientific survey, yet I propose that it was somewhat representative of our community…that anxiety and anxiety levels among our citizenry appear relatively healthy and normal; especially so as related to the recent election.

Are you in a state of worry about real problems so much about your imagined anxieties about the real problems in your life as Epictetus wrote? Do you have thoughts and associated feelings of worry, fears, and frustration? Do you find yourself in a state of panic without an apparent reason? If you or a family member is indeed having difficulty with anxiety, remember help is but a step away; you just have to reach out. The Tropical Texas Behavioral Health Hot line number is 1-877-289-7199, and for Veterans the hot line is 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Until next time Stay Healthy My Friends!