Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and is often quite functional and beneficial. For example, if I am driving and suddenly hear a horn and screeching tires, it is normal to experience a rush of fear that accompanies my body’s “fight or flight” response. I need my autonomic nervous system to kick in and cause me to hyper-focus on the situation to avoid danger. In these situations, anxiety is protective and necessary for survival. Hence, the title of this article needs that qualifier. The goal is never complete freedom from the helpful forms of anxiety. However, as a therapist, I am often asked the question, “When does normal worry or anxiety cross the line into what would be considered an anxiety disorder?”
The brief answer is: when the anxiety is excessive, irrational and/or interferes in your daily functioning. However, this answer is overly simplistic because there are numerous anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In contrast to the relatively mild and brief anxiety experienced in relation to a stressful event (such as going to a job interview or speaking in public), anxiety disorders involve significant fear or dread over an extended period of time. Although each of the specific anxiety disorders has different symptoms, all the symptoms cluster around excessive, irrational fear and dread.
Anxiety is clinically significant when it causes impairment in emotional, relational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Anxiety disorders can be classified as specific phobias (such as claustrophobia), can result from specific traumatic events, as in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or can be generalized, as in general anxiety disorder (GAD). In GAD the person worries excessively about life circumstances such as relationships, finances, job performance or social acceptance. The important commonality among all anxiety disorders is the impairment in overall functioning.
In addition to the fear and dread that is experienced in anxiety disorders, people often suffer physiological symptoms that can include irritability, restlessness or feeling on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep) and muscle tension.
If you, or someone you love, are experiencing these symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact one of the therapists at Anthology Counseling and Wellness to assist you in proper diagnosis and treatment. Although there is never complete freedom from all anxiety, freedom from debilitating anxiety is absolutely possible!