(**The names of the people, as well as the symptoms, are all fictitious within this scenario.)
**Maia, 32 is married to Roland, 35. Together they have 3 children, Roland, Jr. 7, Mae Beth, 4 and Rome, 18 months. Roland shared “I love Maia. I love the family that we have created. I mean she and the kids are my everything. I don’t know, though, how much longer I can put up with some of Maia’s ways. It’s just…crazy. Yeah, I said it. Her moods are absolutely insane! I don’t know how I am going to be able to hold our family together.”
Maia agreed with her husband. “I wish that I could say that Roland was exaggerating, but the truth of the matter is that he is probably downplaying how things are at home. I am always on edge. The kids have their toys all over the house after I took all day to clean it. I admit it. I lose it. Yep, I completely lose control. I begin yelling and cursing at the kids. When the baby gets fussy and starts whining, I find myself being jumpy then when I realize that it’s the baby who is fussing about nothing, I immediately transition into being irritable. I have been an at home mom since I gave birth to Rome. Because I am home all the time, I am constantly gorging myself on the news. I’m so afraid of what life will be like for my kids. I worry if they will come home safely or will there a disgruntled student who decides to snipe them. I don’t let them play after school with their friends. I certainly don’t let them spend the night. You never know who’s doing what to children nowadays, and I would kill anyone that I thought hurt my child. I’ve been having chest pains lately. My breathing is forced. My neck is stiff. My shoulders are tight. I can’t sleep, and I am always tired. I went to the doctor. He says that everything is fine. I don’t know. All I know is that something has to give.”
Maia struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Maia is finding that her GAD is impacting all areas of her life: physical, emotional, relational and socially. Maia is going to the doctor to get a reduction to her physical symptoms. Because of the focus on her mental struggles, she is finding it harder and harder to both find peace and be peaceful.
Our brain’s number one priority is securing our survival. Anxiety is the brain’s security system going into overdrive. The dysregulation of the brain’s processing of threats can manifest in multiple forms. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml lists these various types of anxiety:
Types of Anxiety:
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about several things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Being irritable
- Having muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation.
During a panic attack, people may experience:
- Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant problems in various areas of the person’s life, including the development of agoraphobia (see below).
A phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object.
People with a phobia:
- May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
- Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
- Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
- Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety
There are several types of phobias and phobia-related disorders:
Specific Phobias (sometimes called simple phobias): As the name suggests, people who have a specific phobia have an intense fear of, or feel intense anxiety about, specific types of objects or situations. Some examples of specific phobias include the fear of:
- Specific animals, such as spiders, dogs, or snakes
- Receiving injections
Social anxiety disorder (previously called social phobia): People with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. This worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations. Social anxiety disorder can manifest in a range of situations, such as within the workplace or the school environment.
Agoraphobia: People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of two or more of the following situations:
- Using public transportation
- Being in open spaces
- Being in enclosed spaces
- Standing in line or being in a crowd
- Being outside of the home alone
People with agoraphobia often avoid these situations, in part, because they think being able to leave might be difficult or impossible in the event they have panic-like reactions or other embarrassing symptoms. In the most severe form of agoraphobia, an individual can become housebound.
Separation anxiety disorder: Separation anxiety is often thought of as something that only children deal with; however, adults can also be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. People who have separation anxiety disorder have fears about being parted from people to whom they are attached. They often worry that some sort of harm or something untoward will happen to their attachment figures while they are separated. This fear leads them to avoid being separated from their attachment figures and to avoid being alone. People with separation anxiety may have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or experience physical symptoms when separation occurs or is anticipated.
Selective mutism: A somewhat rare disorder associated with anxiety is selective mutism. Selective mutism occurs when people fail to speak in specific social situations despite having normal language skills. Selective mutism usually occurs before the age of 5 and is often associated with extreme shyness, fear of social embarrassment, compulsive traits, withdrawal, clinging behavior, and temper tantrums. People diagnosed with selective mutism are often also diagnosed with other anxiety disorders.
Factors that Contribute to Anxiety:
Researchers are finding that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Although the risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders include:
- Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
- Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
- A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
- Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder.
Managing Through Anxiety:
Anxiety can cause complete havoc on your life, as well as the lives of those that love you. Ask Roland and Maia. It is important that you and those around you know that anxiety is not imagined or simply in your head. Anxiety is as real as any other medical challenge that you are, have or will experience. Here is a list of actions that you can take to reduce the impact of your symptoms.
- Use grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are the manual reregulation of your brain’s alarm system. An example of this is using your voice. When you are finding yourself becoming anxious, speak to your fear/worry. Say out loud. “All is well, and I am fine.”
- Breathing techniques. By controlling your breathing, you are now able to redistribute the blood supply within your brain. At the height of anxiety, your blood supply is mainly in the regions of your limbic area (the portion of the brain that holds emotion) and the reptilian portion of your brain (the part of the brain that develops first that is rooted purely in instinct). Breathing causes this blood to move from the reptilian and limbic regions to the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that houses our ability to utilize logic, consequences and future indicators. 478 breathing strategy is a very popular technique. It involves taking in a breath on 4 counts. One holds the breath for 7 counts. Finally, one exhales the breath in 8 counts.
- Sip a glass of water. Hydration is always key.
- Engage in meditation and/or prayer. Asking for help from God is always a way to create an opportunity for release and surrender.
- Seek help. Help can be in the forms of a therapist, psychiatrist, counselor and religious leader.
If you are having the same experiences as Maia and would like to secure help, please reach out to us for your free 15-minute phone consultation.