When Worry Takes Over: Navigating the Maze of Anxiety Disorders

Do you ever find yourself worrying excessively about things that are relatively insignificant? Well, if that excessive worrying lasts for more than six months, it might be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a condition in which people become overly concerned about things like health, money, interpersonal relationships, work challenges, and so on. This constant state of apprehension, tension, or fear can lead to physical symptoms like sweating, tension headaches, upset stomach, heartburn, frequent urination/diarrhea, impulsive emotional outbursts, memory loss, insomnia, or fatigue.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Besides GAD, there are several other types of anxiety disorders that can be potentially debilitating:
1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): This condition is characterized by recurring worry (obsessions) about something that is extremely unlikely to happen (like accidentally hurting someone) and uncontrollable compulsions to do things repeatedly (such as washing hands multiple times per day).
2. Panic disorder: Sufferers of panic disorder experience unexpected, intense panic or fear attacks that last 10-30 minutes, often triggered by fearful situations or thoughts. These attacks can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling crazy, nearly passing out, being choked, trembling, nausea, and even chest pain similar to a heart attack. Agoraphobia, a feeling of unease in large open spaces or crowded areas, is often associated with panic disorder.
3. Phobia: Phobias are irrational and exaggerated fears of objects (like spiders) or situations (such as heights) that poses little to no actual threat to you. Avoidance of these phobias can reinforce the fear, making it worse.
4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is caused by a deeply-rooted, fearful disturbance stemming from a previous traumatic or life-threatening event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, withdrawal from relationships, and being easily startled.
5. Social anxiety: People with social anxiety have a fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public. This often prevents them from comfortably attending social gatherings or performing in front of an audience.

The Root of Anxiety

Fear can be defined as “False Expectations Appearing Real” (FEAR). It involves anticipating something you would like to avoid, to the point that you truly believe it will unavoidably happen and that you’ll suffer the unwanted consequences. When you entertain fearful and worrisome thoughts long enough, they enter your physical body as anxiety symptoms.

The thoughts that you think most frequently eventually become your beliefs. So if you habitually dwell on negative thoughts without exercising self-control over which thoughts enter and stay in your mind, anxiety can take hold. This is especially true if those thoughts are linked to memories of past negative experiences. Anxiety is simply the physical manifestation of these misguided beliefs – beliefs in fearful thoughts that aren’t even real.

You can’t just think away anxiety since it’s a physical manifestation of fear. Simply telling yourself “I’m not worried” won’t immediately erase the bad physical feelings, just like healing a fresh wound on your finger isn’t instantaneous. Your body has been programmed to respond to these thoughts in a certain way.

Once your body accepts and believes those repeated negative thoughts and the nerve pathways become ingrained (much like a food addiction), anxiety reactions to stressful thoughts can no longer be controlled with just one simple thought. To overcome anxiety, you have to “unlearn” these reactions by gradually reversing the fearful beliefs that led to it.

How Stress Contributes to Anxiety

Stress is a major factor in anxiety, but it’s your response to stress that is most important. While it’s easy to believe that stress comes from external sources like a demanding job, unpaid bills, an unhappy relationship, or annoying relatives, it’s actually your beliefs about these things that trigger stress within your body.

Research from Stanford University points out that internal stress originates from incorrect beliefs and misinterpretations about your circumstances and yourself. These beliefs manifest as harmful energy signals of anxiety, anger, low self-worth, depression, sadness, irritation, bitterness, and feeling overwhelmed.

To combat stressful situations and avoid becoming overwhelmed, examine the role your thinking played in creating the stress and adjust your perspective to shift away from a stress response. In doing so, you can successfully regain control over your thought processes and eventually break the habit of chronic worrying.