The prevalence of anxiety and its closest relatives panic, phobias and OCD has risen considerably over the last fifty years. These symptoms can create a sense of tension or tightening, feelings of fear, fright, and agitation. Many physical symptoms can also be felt such as a racing heart, sweating, “butterflies in the stomach” and more. Some people can focus on a thought, issue or problem that endures or can be unrelenting. Some people may be so fearful of an object or a specific situation, avoidance of it can dictate routines and behaviors.
Some anxiety is normal throughout life. Inherently it provides a warning system against danger. It heightens a sense of alertness which can be healthy and adaptive.
As the world has become more complex, the amount of stress that humans face has grown proportionately. Individuals will naturally feel anxious when difficult situations arise such as illness, loss of job or relationship or any life transition, just to name a few. If the anxiety that a person feels is manageable, if that person can adapt to the life stress and regain a sense of equilibrium, anxiety will naturally lessen.
Some people, however, find that anxiety, panic, fear and obsessive thoughts and behaviors become part of their daily lives and can interfere with functioning. These symptoms can create discomfort under certain situations, they can rule a person’s life or anything in between.
Causes of these symptoms are innumerable. As previously mentioned, modern life comes with a good deal of stress, creating anxiety. Traumatic events occurring in either the present or the past can create a great deal of distress. Injuries to self worth, loss and transitions can also make someone anxious. Being different can be the source of great anxiety as is sometimes the case for people of color, gay, lesbian, transgender and queer people. Ethnic, race, and class issues can also create various kinds of distress.Part of what makes panic, phobias and obsessive thoughts so difficult, is that they can appear not to have a cause. People sometimes think they are crazy because for some reason unbeknownst to themselves, one of these symptoms appear “out of the blue.” Even if a person has lived with one of these for a long time, the reasons may not be readily apparent. These symptoms are so distressing for some people that they do think they are crazy….but they are not.
Anxiety, fears, phobias and obsessive thoughts and behaviors are perfect reactions to a person’s unique experience. With patience, understanding and exploration it is possible to understand the causes of a person’s distress. There are many avenues now available to help with these symptoms. First, it is suggested that a person adopt a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Exercise, a good and well balanced diet, good sleep habits and rest are important. Meditation, yoga, Thai Chi, Qigong, stress reduction books and classes can all help. Therapy is also a wonderful resource in coming to understand the symptom/s that a person is having. People who are anxious, afraid, phobic and obsessive have come to believe things that perpetuate these symptoms. Psychotherapy can help people examine the causes of these symptoms and help people see the world differently. Then with time, patience and practice new ways of responding to the world can emerge. Finding new ways of coping with old pain and beliefs is central to healing all anxiety related distress. Understanding and resolving fears allow people to make better decisions all around and thereby increasing the quality of life.
If being from a minority ethnicity or being gay, lesbian, queer or transgender is the cause of ones anxiety counseling can also help. It may be important to consider issues of identity, self acceptance, and family and work relationships. Life need not be determined by ones anxieties and fears. While fear says that it is knows the truth, nothing could be farther from the truth. Inner peace and fulfillment come from moving beyond the false beliefs fear would purport. With determination, commitment and help, this is more than possible.