Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in America? While statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health reveal that around 18.1 percent of the adult population suffers from anxiety disorders, estimates this number to be around 30%, as many people aren’t diagnosed despite suffering from it. That’s 3 in 10 people!
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with generalized anxiety disorder “experience excessive anxiety and worry, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern”. The official diagnosis requires that the person experiences this state on most of the days over the time of at least 6 months. According to the ADAA, these disorders develop due to a combination of factors, such as “genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events”.
Mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, aren’t easy to face. Neither are they easy to talk about for a lot of people. In many societies, there is an unfortunate stigma attached to these conditions. There is a serious need for us to gain a better understanding, and spread more awareness, in order to support each other in our various challenges.
5 Things You Want to Understand about Experiencing Anxiety
What Causes Someone Anxiety Can Be a Very Real Experience for Them
When we experience anxiety, our bodies go into a fight-or-flight mode. Our bodies are physically preparing to either fight or take flight. Our heart rate increases and we may sweat. Our bodies experience something very real.
Its purpose is to enable us to face danger efficiently. If a monster is chasing us, we either need to fight the monster or take flight from the monster. Our ancestors appreciated their ability to do this when hunting or facing any danger. Even in current times, there can be circumstances when humans are in danger and need their adrenaline rush.
However, our minds may react this way to perceived danger as well. For some people, they can’t pinpoint why they feel anxious. It is important to understand, however, that the person is experiencing a very real emotion, and if they experience anxiety due to a certain matter, it feels very real for them.
It’s Good to Have a Breathing Reminder
Just like other people in our lives, people experiencing anxiety or anxiety disorders have their own human journeys. Supporting each other on our journeys makes a world of a difference. One technique to help manage anxiety is to take deep and steady breaths. It sounds simple, however, when our bodies experience anxiety, we may begin to breathe rapidly and from our upper lungs.
To relax our bodies, we can take deep and steady breaths to start up our bodies’ relaxation response. That’s why gently reminding our loved ones (or ourselves) who are experiencing anxious moments to breathe deeply can be a very supportive action.
People With Anxiety Have a Heavily Active Mind
As we mentioned before, the anxious brain is on fight-or-flight response. It perceives a threat, and therefore feels a strong urge to protect itself. Therefore, the brain during this time is very sensitive to any potential (or perceived) threat and is on guard. This can lead to overthinking.
One way to support someone who is experiencing this (be it yourself or someone else) is to gently turn your (or their) attention to different thoughts that are neutral. Tanya J. Peterson shares this technique at healthyplace.com. By doing this, the brain may be able to enter a different train of thought which does not cause anxiety.
Don’t Leave Them Out
When people are experiencing anxiety, their natural reaction is often wanting to isolate themselves. One of the main reasons for this reaction is that they may feel too anxious to interact. According to calmclinic.com, another big reason for this reaction is that they may feel the need to “deal with their anxiety” without asking others for support or engaging in other entertainments. Also, many people experiencing such a condition feel too afraid of what those who find out may think of them.
As mentioned before, anxiety can make the mind more prone to negative thoughts about oneself and life. With all these reasons, going out and connecting can feel scary. However, providing a safe, inviting and judgment-free space can be a big action of support for those around us facing this condition. According to calmclinic.com, being alone with anxious thoughts can actually make us feel worse, so being with supportive others can help.
Don’t Be Offended By Silence… They Still Care
Sometimes the solution that makes sense to someone experiencing anxiety is to just be alone. Please understand that doesn’t mean they don’t love you or don’t want to spend time with you. It also doesn’t mean they don’t care. They are just going through a lot and are having a hard time making sense of what’s going on.
If we understand that it isn’t necessarily about us, it can help us feel more compassionate towards our loved ones experiencing anxiety. Sometimes friends drift away due to not understanding how tough or different a situation can seem from one another’s points of view. Understanding, compassion and holding space can make all the difference.
So There We Have It
Here were some points we can remember next time we ourselves or our loved ones are experiencing anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Gaining proper awareness about anxiety and learning techniques to help manage it can help us. But sometimes, what we need is patience, understanding, and support. Also, it is important to remember that we don’t want to try to “fix” anyone; instead we want to show understanding, support, and respect for one another and our journeys.
Also, if you suspect yourself or someone you care for is experiencing an anxiety disorder, please speak to your doctor or a counsellor to learn about the support available. You don’t need to continue to suffer. Anxiety disorders are very treatable and you can have much better days!