Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Panic Attacks Are Normal: The Truth About Anxiety Disorder

Have you ever been mid-panic attack and had somebody, in an annoyingly nonchalant tone of voice, tell you to calm down or snap out of it? In these situations, the person making the remark likely believes that it is perfectly appropriate and even helpful behavior. The person in the midst of an anxiety attack would strongly disagree. For people who suffer from anxiety disorder, “calm down,” “snap out of it” and other phrases of that kind can be compared to scenes in the Harry Potter series where someone slips and says “Voldemort” instead of “he who must not be named” or “you know who.” For those readers who are not familiar with Harry Potter, whenever the characters hear the word “Voldemort” they become intensely upset, angry, and scared. These phrases are bad words for people who suffer from anxiety disorder; they are rage-inducing comments that make an already uncomfortable situation infinitely more unbearable.

This in no way means that the average person who uses those phrases maliciously truants people with anxiety disorder with the intent of worsening their condition; it means that the average person is unaware that anxiety disorder is a genuine, prevalent illness. Further, even the people who are not completely ignorant to the existence of the illness remain glaringly uninformed of the damage that it causes. Some even demand explanations for the behavior of people suffering from anxiety disorder. A person with the disorder often has no idea what triggered a particular anxiety attack and will become more distressed upon being badgered about why the panic is happening.

One of the main reasons that many people do not understand the severity of anxiety disorder is because everybody experiences some form of anxiety during life. People get nervous for exams and get stressed out when they have piles work to do, for example. This is a completely normal aspect of life. However, anxiety for the average person and anxiety for people suffering from anxiety disorder are so different that there probably should be two different words to differentiate them.
If the average person is experiencing anxiety about some aspect of life, that person might worry, have a faster than usual heart rate, or feel more tense than usual. However, usually that person is able to move on from those symptoms and tackle the part of life that caused them.

That is how anxiety works for the average person. That is why many people in society resent the fact that people claim to have anxiety disorder. They figure that everyone gets anxious every now and then, but not everyone runs around claiming that they are suffering from a serious disorder because of anxiety. It is completely accurate to think that, because not everyone who has felt nervous at some point in life is suffering from a serious disorder. However, many people in society actually are suffering from this serious mental illness.

This disease feels absolutely nothing like the way the average person might feel while studying for a difficult exam. People with anxiety do not have rare instances of mild anxiety, they regularly feel anxious and overwhelmed about aspects of life that many people would not consider difficult. The disorder completely interrupts the flow of life. It interferes with relationships, ability to work, and many other everyday activities. They are not just worried about an upcoming job interview, for example, but they have irrational fears of every possible way it could go wrong. This applies to a large part of their lives, so they are constantly on edge and worrying.

Sometimes people with anxiety disorder even avoid everyday activities to avoid the anxiety that comes with them. The feeling of panic can become so intense that people with this disorder would rather stay inside then have to worry about the catastrophes that could ensue if they were to go outside and go about their day. This can mean avoiding friends and family, skipping school or work, and destroying other important parts of life. "[Generalized Anxiety Disorder] is the leading cause of workplace disability (in the United States)." See: Consensus Statement on Generalized Anxiety Disorder From The International Consensus Group on Depression and Anxiety, by clicking here.

Anxiety disorder patients feel constant, intense fear about situations that would not pose a threat to the average person without the disease. The disease also has physical symptoms including insomnia, difficulty breathing, stomach pains, and many others. If these symptoms sound debilitating it is because they truly are.

Unfortunately, for people with anxiety disorder, the condition worsens when they are compared to the boy who cried wolf, referred to as drama queens, or even accused of exaggerating or lying. Society has made progress when it comes to acknowledging the condition; the field of psychiatry has greatly expanded, for example, but it is not nearly enough.
Having this disorder still comes with a stigma, one that is great enough that many people with the disorder feel the need to hide their illness and are embarrassed by it. This causes added stress, since they are constantly trying to maintain an idealistic “normal life” because that is the general expectation. This expectation gives people with this disorder more to worry about; not only are they already worrying about their everyday lives, but they also are worrying about maintaining an acceptable reputation in society.

Nobody should have to be embarrassed because they have a legitimate disorder. People with anxiety disorder should receive much more accommodations than the few (if any) that they currently receive. People with diseases that are accepted by society as a whole receive copious accommodations to help them get through life. Supporting people with diseases has even become a trend in the form of rubber bracelets like the livestrong bracelets. One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is a large rubber bracelet that says “panic attacks are normal” in bold, capital letters. But my bracelet is a rather unique accessory that many people don’t approve of or understand. If anxiety disorder continues not to be recognized for the disease that it really is, people who have it will continue to suffer more because of this alienation.