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  • Writer's pictureBritt

Anxiety Disorders (SAD/GAD)

"Every human being has a little bit of anxiety in them". It's an annoying statement people make when you say that you have anxiety. They aren't wrong...but they are at the same time. Yes, everyone has a little bit of anxiety, like before a big exam or an interview for a new job. Anxiety is normal, it keeps us alive when bad things are happening (like getting attacked by a lion—extreme, I know). However, anxiety is not supposed to happen every second of every day. It is not supposed to happen just because we are leaving the house, meeting our friends somewhere, going to school, or for no reason at all. Too much anxiety is a bad thing, an imbalance in our brain and the result of life experiences. Too much anxiety can be harmful.

Generalized anxiety disorder(GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD - that acronym always makes me laugh)—I have both, so I feel like I can talk pretty confidently about them—affect a person's daily life. Literally, almost every minute of every day, that anxiety is with you.

If we go to Google, SAD is defined as a disorder where everyday social interactions cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness, and embarrassment. The symptoms may include excess fear of situations in which one may be judged, worry about embarrassment or humiliation, or concern about offending someone. GAD is the same but there doesn't need to be a social situation to cause it. It's generally categorized as excessive worrying that you can't control about every day/future events in and out of social situations. With SAD/GAD, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be crippling

Let's talk about the science behind it first because, as we well know, a lot of people like to say "Don't worry about it", "Everyone has anxiety, you're fine" or "Get over it". Science has proven that it isn't just in our heads, we are not going insane, and we can't just get over it.

First things first, SAD/GAD can be caused by genetics. If your parents or grandparents have it, you are two to seven times more likely to get it than a child who doesn't have parents with SAD/GAD. So sadly, this does mean that we might be passing this disorder down to our children, but at least we know how to deal with it, right? (Right?!?). However, it's not all bad news—if we have our symptoms under control, the children have a better chance of not getting it.

The second place anxiety comes from is the amygdala. If you have an overactive amygdala—which is the part of the brain that controls the fear response—you have a higher chance of developing SAD/GAD. Experts say that no one is "born" with anxiety, but they can be born with a predisposition to it based on the two facts I mentioned above. Anxiety has more to do with a person's environment than it does with the chemicals in their body.

The third way we develop social anxiety is by learning from experiences to fear certain things. Anxiety can also be a result of traumatic experiences such as child abuse, but that will be focused on more in a different blog post. These experiences create more and more neuron pathways firing off in our brains. Those neuron pathways connect and note similarities between events or tasks that have caused adrenaline and cortisol to rush through your body (the two hormones that cause the feeling of anxiety). These neurons wire themselves together and with the adrenaline and cortisol that fills our bodies by doing or even thinking of events/tasks we become filled with anxiety. Our brains are literally being taught how to be anxious. Don't you wish you could turn back the clock and teach it to be indifferent?

Sometimes, we become anxious without even knowing the reason behind the anxiety. That means the neurons picked up on something whether in real life or your mind and are firing up the amygdala without you knowing the reasoning for it (how rude, am I right? If you're anxious, at least tell us why!)

There are a lot of symptoms of SAD/GAD:

  • Feelings of nervousness, anticipation, or dread

  • An increased heart rate

  • Trembling

  • Muscle tension

  • Stomach problems

  • inability to breathe

  • Insomnia

  • Feelings of restlessness

  • A sense of impending danger

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Perspiration

  • An urge to escape or avoid

In short, it kind of feels like you are dying—at least, that's how it feels when your anxiety is at a high level and you start getting panic/anxiety attacks. I have struggled with all of those symptoms a decent amount, though the ones I struggle with daily are stomach problems, the inability to breathe, tenseness, increased heart rate, and dread. Now that I look at that, it's about half the list, ha.

With these two disorders come panic and anxiety attacks. They are basically the same except panic attacks can happen anytime and abruptly and anxiety attacks normally build over time in response to stressors.

pie chart of panic attacks and anxiety attacks and the similarities between them

Many people would agree with me that these attacks really do make it seem like you are dying. All of a sudden, your lungs stop working and no matter how much you try, you cannot get enough air. You look like a fish out of water, gasping, mouth wide open, perhaps a hand on your chest as you desperately try to pull in some air. Meanwhile, you're sweating buckets, and your heart is beating out of your chest. Your vision becomes dizzy and starts to blacken around the edges. Some people might pass out and for others, it's minutes before your body starts to calm down.

Having these disorders can make you change how you live your life. You might drop a class that makes you present in front of others (almost did that myself), you might quit a job or start calling in sick a lot if it gives you anxiety, maybe you stop hanging out with your friends when they go out to bars or parties, or maybe you barely live at all—going from home to work back to home where you feel safe and less anxious.

It's incredibly hard to live with these, but there are ways we can train our brains to start seeing the world, events, and places differently. Of course, there are unhealthy ways to deal with anxiety, such as drugs, alcohol, and refusing to ever leave the house, among other habits. But there are plenty of healthy ways to manage anxiety and it's different for everyone. I've had to learn over time how I personally deal with my anxiety and how I can lessen the symptoms. For me distraction is key. I love music, so playing it in my headphones or in my car where I can listen and sing is a great way to calm myself down and remind my brain that I'm not in danger.

Telling yourself positive things rather than focusing on the negative helps as well. "I can do this" instead of "I'm going to fail". "This is a new experience but I will enjoy it once I get there" instead of "Just stay home, you'll hate every second". If you want you can even use that quote from The Help. I've only said it as a joke to friends but it's a good truth to remember. "You is brave". Humor is a good distraction tactic as well.

The positive thinking tool that I am talking about is a therapeutic tool used to combat anxiety and depression. The official name is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and basically, it is just a way to change your negative thoughts into positive ones. (If you have ever heard of DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, it is a certain type of talk therapy based on CBT). The more you do this with purpose, the more you train your brain to do this on its' own. Therapy is a great tool for anxiety, but it is expensive and not a lot of people can afford it. There are several different CBT Workbooks on Amazon that you can use to make your lists and follow the steps. You can also learn to do CBT on your own with five steps that are easy to follow.

  • Make A List.

    • On one side of your notebook, you'll write down a list of unproductive thoughts (I can't do this, I'm a failure, etc) and on the other, you'll make a list of replacement thoughts.

  • Record Unproductive Thoughts.

    • As you go through your day, write down each unproductive or negative thought that you have. You need to be mindful because a lot of the time we have these thoughts without even realizing that we have them!

  • Create Replacement Thoughts.

    • With each new negative thought that you write down, you will create a new saying for it in a positive way.

  • Read Your List Often.

    • Remember this one - you need to make it a habit to read this list and say the positive ones to yourself so that you and your brain get used to hearing them.

  • Notice And Replace.

    • Put all your work together and start being mindful of your thoughts. If you start thinking a negative thought, push it away and replace it with a positive one.

This isn't going to be easy and you'll forget often if you're anything like me. However, the more you do it and the more mindful you get of your thoughts, the easier it will get. If you've done it for long enough, it will even start to be a subconscious process that happens. You're retraining your brain when you do this. Think about how you train an animal to do tricks or a child to sit on the toilet. It isn't magic and it isn't going to go well at first, but soon they learn to follow your lead, they learn to stop fearing, and subconsciously they start doing it on their own.

You need to have patience with yourself and give yourself grace. It's hard work. It's tiring. But I promise, it will help. It won't take away your anxiety completely, I have a feeling that the disorder is there to stay, but it can help you manage it.

How has anxiety kept you from living your life? What other tips and tricks have you learned to manage your anxiety? Let me know in the comments!

For the suicide and crisis lifeline, dial 988.

— Live well and laugh often, Ravens. Signing off for now, Hyperactive Raven <3

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