By Erin Telesford
The other day, June had a strange experience at work. She checked in and sat down at her desk as usual and began working on her assignment. About an hour had passed and she suddenly felt a sharp pain in the middle of her chest. It only lasted for a moment, so she let it go and eventually forgot it ever happened. Then she felt another sudden pain in the same place. Within minutes she was bombarded with small shocks of pain every minute or so. Her hands began to feel cold and clammy; she broke out in a cold sweat; her stomach and upper back ached. Her heart began to race causing shortness of breath, blurry vision and tremors in her hands. She had no idea what was happening and was terrified. After the stiffness and tightness in her chest and back spread to her arms, she believed it was a heart attack.
Sitting quietly and very still at her desk, surrounded by people working away, June panicked, in her mind believing she only had minutes left to live. She was afraid to stand in case her heart suddenly stopped, and she’d drop dead on the floor. But, suddenly, her name was called she stood up and walked over to a co-worker standing in the doorway. Everything was normal. She even smiled and laughed like nothing was wrong. Eventually, she had to sit back down at her desk, and her fear of death started all over again.
The feeling that June had was, in fact, not a heart attack, but a panic attack– a symptom of her Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Panic attacks are a form of anxiety that causes shortness of breath, blurry vision, and a feeling of fight or flight. It often makes its sufferers believe death is imminent, though symptoms vary per person.
Anxiety is focused more on the fight or flight response caused by chemical reactions in the brain. Vox’s, “The Mind: Explained,” gives an example of a warthog’s experience of anxiety when it sees a lion in the wild.
“That warthog’s amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, identifies the lion as a threat and that releases adrenaline throughout the body. It prepares the body to face the threat and fight or to flee. The warthog’s heart is racing and breathing speeds up, lung passages expand and certain blood vessels dilate. All to make sure plenty of oxygen gets to the muscles needed to flee. Those muscles tense, ready for action. The warthog’s pupils dilate to take in more of the scene. Its peripheral vision shrinks to focus on the lion in front of it. Other systems get shut down. The warthog stops salivating and digesting. Blood
flow is diverted away from the stomach, skin, and nerves involved in arousal get turned off.”
So why do humans continue to suffer from anxiety now that it is not always necessary for survival? Anxiety can be inherited through our genes. If you have one parent who suffers from anxiety, chances are, you will too. Women are twice as likely to have anxiety than men. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain, like serotonin, can cause anxiety, as well as traumatic experiences.
Anxiety disorders reside in four categories:
- Catastrophic– People with these disorders experience an overwhelming belief that something very bad is going to happen. This includes separation anxiety and phobias.
- Evaluation– The distinctive feature of this category is social anxiety which includes selective mutism and the fear of being watched and judged.
- Losing Control– This comes hand in hand with panic disorder, the fear of the loss of control you have during a panic attack. “Agoraphobia takes it to an extreme,” people who have it avoid public places that might trigger an attack.
- Uncertainty– This is the fear of not knowing what is going to happen. This includes Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD– which is the fixation on impulses, thoughts, and rituals– and other disorders.
The rise of anxiety in today’s society is closely associated with the rise of anxiety consumerism. Weighted blankets, fidget cubes and spinners have a high marketplace on Amazon and other sites, with many items being targeted to children and teens.
Based on data collected by the National Survey of Children’s Health, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety for ages 6-17. The most prominent reason for this jump s the rise of social media and screen usage. Teens who spend more time on screens and social media are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and feel more isolated, which worsens anxiety symptoms. Social media uses anxiety as fuel to keep people on their apps, creating a cycle of worsening anxiety and isolation.
Quitting social media helps decrease anxiety; however, it does not treat all the symptoms. Some people believe alcohol reduces the effects of anxiety for them; however, it has been proven that alcohol increases the symptoms and effects of anxiety over time. Others choose to use marijuana to combat their anxiety. Although the chemical THC tends to make your heartbeat increase, which could cause anxiety, another chemical in marijuana called CBD has been seen to reduce anxiety. Many people use CBD infused oils, vitamins and skincare in hopes that the chemical will give them a calming sensation without the “high” of the drug.
However, the majority of chosen options for anxiety treatment remains to be prescription drugs, exercise and talk therapy. The most effective combination of treatments recorded are prescription drugs and therapy; however, professionals believe there need to be better treatment options developed, as well as more studies focused on solving anxiety.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from an anxiety disorder, be sure not to self- diagnose or treat. Anxiety and all other mental illnesses must be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.