Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anxiety Disorders

I've had time to mull over this past Friday's psychology lecture and am now ready to post all that I have learned.

For the first 6 weeks of term, Friday lectures are dedicated to Clinical Psychology. I'm really enjoying the lecturer. She's a double Doctor and she only looks 30! I feel way under accomplished now every time I'm in the same room as her because of the whole Dr. Dr. thing. She also reminds me of my psychologist from when I was younger. And with that, I move to the topic we discussed on Friday using myself as an example.

Anxiety Disorders

I have been diagnosed with a few anxiety disorders since I was in middle school. I believe it was sixth grade that I had my first appointment with Dr. Clara (note: my psychologist's name has been changed to protect privacy). First, let's recognize the difference between a normal amount of anxiety and fear to the amount that can be classified as a disorder.

Everyone will experience anxiety or fear in their lifetime. This is completely normal. In fact, anxiety and fear or evolutionary and have helped the human race to survive and thrive over the past however many years it's been since we climbed out of the ooze and took our first steps and sapiens. A healthy, moderate amount of anxiety can improve performance and creates a motivation to complete the task at hand. Fear triggers the 'flight or fight' response which has saved many lives in the past. So, anxiety and fear are normal reactions. What isn't normal is when you have a tremendous amount of either of them. Too much anxiety and/or fear can be seriously detrimental.

In most cases, to be classified as a type of anxiety disorder the anxiety or fear must  be persistent and constant for at least 6 months (if not longer).

Now, let's look at the different kind of Anxiety Disorders.

1. Specific Phobia: specific phobia is exactly what is sounds like. Fear of a specific thing. Specific phobias can be put into five different categories; Animal, Natural Environment, Blood/Injection/Injury, Situational, and Other. The fear or anxiety experienced must be triggered by a specific object and the reaction must happen the same way every time. People with specific phobias will try to avoid situations that will result in coming into contact with the trigger object. The reaction will generally be extreme and there might be a feeling of loss of control. Now, I used to have two Specific Phobias and have slowly worked past one of them. They fell into Natural Environment and Other. Natural Environment used to be spiders. They use to trigger panic attacks, sometimes I couldn't breathe, I tended to avoid going certain places where I had previously encountered a spider, and if a spider wound up in my room I would either sleep in the living room that night or stay up all night worrying. I can now handle seeing spiders without running and screaming. But I still have a very severe reaction towards vomiting. I know everyone thinks it's gross, but it's something that I've never been able to get past. I see someone vomit or hear it and I go into complete shut down mode. Eyes covered, hands covering ears, fetal position...the whole shabangbang. I also avoid situations with vomiting.

I'll breeze by these next few...

2. Social Phobia: Social phobia is a lot like Specific Phobia except that it deals with social situations. Specific fears of certain social situation like singing in public, acting, public speeches, etc. Reactions and anxiety must persist for 6 or more months and the person will actively try to avoid situations where they may have to do the social phobia.

3. General Anxiety Disorder: Basically is over worrying. Feelings must persist for more than 6 months. I have also been diagnosed with this and I know that it sounds really stupid but I'll try to explain it as uncomplicated as possible. I often worry about the future. And I don't mean just the whole, "What am I going to do with my life?" I mean I will be walking along to University or the pub or something and all of a sudden I'll start crying because I've just played out a scenario in my head that a family member or someone really important has died. This is a daily occurrence . I know it sounds like nothing or really natural but when you spend most of your time worrying and/or anxious it kinda sucks.

4. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Person experiences a really traumatic experience and relives it through flashbacks or dreams. Reactions must be extreme and the person will avoid situations where they had the flashback and it must persist for more than 6 months (you seeing the pattern?).

5. Panic Disorder: Frequent panic attacks for 6 or more months. Person will try to avoid the place where a panic attack occurred. Though, you must be sure that the panic attacks are not caused by a phobia.

6. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Person has intrusive thoughts at strange times that cause anxiety and/or fear. The person then creates a ritual that helps deal with the anxiety or fear.

That's the basic run down. There's obviously a lot more to all of them, but I didn't want to bore you all with all of the details. I think the most important thing to realize is that Anxiety Disorders are debilitating. They make it...hard. I remember sleepless nights on the couch or in my room worried about spiders, feeling them on my body. That's not to say that living is impossible. In fact, I'm fine now that I know how to deal with everything. People with anxiety disorders are just like everyone else. We just need to sit down and chill sometimes.

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