Healthy anxiety is an important part of people’s lives – in fact fear often represents a defense mechanism that can very effectively keep a person from danger or help dealing with it. For instance any normal mentally healthy individual will walk faster in a dark deserted parking lot in order to avoid a potential trouble or will look through a peep-hole and ask “Who’s there?” if woken up in a middle of the night by an unexpected knock on the door. In other words fear is there to keep a brain alert and make a body ready to protect itself.
The Dark Side of Fear
However, a healthy anxiety mechanism that works perfectly for animals (that only experience it in the face of danger) backfires when it comes to humans. A human being represents a phenomenon of a different kind – his/her physiological needs and functions belong to the animal world and their existence is defined by instincts, while on the other hand the humans are both blessed and cursed with reason, intelligence and imagination that make human fear overwhelming and extremely deep.
Unlike the rest of the living creatures humans have lost their unity with nature; they possess too much knowledge about their own past, their helplessness and their inevitable death. Unlike an animal, a human being is not just directed by instincts, but has a free choice and as a result is forced to take responsibility for his/her actions, which makes the human fear even more powerful. Often times fear has its concrete causes: everyone is afraid of death, diseases, loss of a loved one, ruin, violent attacks, accidents. An anxiety disorder, however, represents a different kind of fear – the one that makes a human being terrorized by the demons created by his/her own brain.
Signs of Unhealthy Anxiety
Healthy people feel anxious every now and then, but the main difference between normal fear and anxiety disorder is the intensity of the fear itself and its’ impact on a person’s every day life and his/her ability to function. Feeling worried about job security, romantic rejection, family members and health is perfectly normal for anyone. However, when a person finds him/herself overpowered by fear and is unable to control his/her worries it is more than likely that they are facing the chronic anxiety.
Here are the most common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
- Constant worrying that eventually spins out of control.
- Persistent fear that involves many different matters.
- Being constantly restless and irritable.
- Insomnia, upset stomach, headaches, fatigue, muscle pains.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Obsessive terrifying thoughts.
- Fears about irrational things, objects or circumstances.
- Constant worrying about things that are beyond one’s control like global warming or nuclear war.
The Courage of Dealing with Fear
Unfortunately people suffering from anxiety disorder are very often misunderstood. Even close friends and family do not always have patience for their loved one who seems paralyzed with fear before scheduling an annual physical and only thinks about all kinds of terminal diseases; can’t stop worrying about his/her work problems and is constantly terrified of being fired; gets extremely stressed out about a routine social event like having people over for dinner or going to a party. Most of the healthy people cannot relate to those irrationally exaggerated fears and thus are unable to understand their nature – they get annoyed (let alone unable to be compassionate).
Any victim of the anxiety disorder hears the legendary phrase “It’s all in your head” several times a day and each time gets more and more frustrated than before. O.K. – it is in the head, how is it supposed to make anyone feel any better? A problem in the head can spoil one’s life just as effectively as one in the colon, liver or kidney. It needs to be dealt with. Here are some suggestions how to begin co-existing with unhealthy fear:
- The first and the most important step is admitting the existence of a medical condition. Too much worrying is a disease and a person suffering from it deserves to be treated professionally and has every right to count on the support of the loved ones.
- See a doctor and a psychologist. Nowadays that the anxiety disorder is so common, there is a variety of very effective treatments. Some medications bring an immediate, but temporary relief, others are more long term and it takes longer to get adjusted to them.
- Embrace a healthy lifestyle. Latest researches show that big amounts of fat, refined sugars and caffeine can trigger anxiety (Davidson). A healthy diet based on high protein low fat sources and whole foods combined with exercise program is likely to help (in any case it surely could not hurt).
Although there is no known cure for anxiety disorder, it is possible to learn to overpower the fear, become stronger and as a result feel more in control.