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Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences. In fact, anxiety is a positive condition in some situations, because it prepares our bodies to be alert and responsive when action is required. When we are new to a situation, we are often filled with anxiety and excitement to be ready for whatever comes next. This response becomes evident when we are faced with issues such as a need to make an important decision, public speaking, or taking an exam. Furthermore, anxiety helps keep us safe when confronted with a dangerous situation. But when anxiety is chronic and overwhelming, and the distress interferes with our ability to function and lead a normal life then an Anxiety Disorder is most likely in play.
A classic example of an Anxiety Disorder can be illustrated in the timeless tale of The Wizard of Oz. In this fantasy all the main characters experience, fear, confusion, and doubt as they journey on the yellow brick road of self-discovery. The character of the Cowardly Lion embodies clinical symptoms of anxiety as he quakes, shrinks, holds his breath, and growls his way through the unfamiliar world of Oz. Instead of embracing his fears of the unknown and unfamiliar, he “chronically avoids” facing his vulnerability and his true lion nature. His delusional belief that the “Great Oz” could instill in him the courage he needs to manage his daily bouts of fear is a common error in thinking, that is, that an agent outside of ourselves will relieve us of the tyranny of confusing emotions and obsessive behaviors.
So, what exactly is an Anxiety Disorder; and what is the difference between situational anxiety, normal fears we are willing to face, and chronic anxiety, fears we will desperately avoid and chronically disrupt everyday functioning? Well, we all have some degree of anxiety in our daily lives due to the very nature of our culture and work environments, but, like the angst-ridden Lion, many people suffer daily with gripping tension, sensations of doom and dread, and chronic doubts about their ability to function as competent and productive human beings. Client’s report they will go to radical lengths to avoid symptoms of anxiety. These disturbing symptoms may include:
While these symptoms may be caused by certain medical conditions, more often they do not have a medical origin, but are the result of ineffective patterns of thinking.
The Cowardly Lion’s extreme response reflect the behavior pattern of chronic anxiety sufferers. His fears immobilized and chipped away at his self worth. His defensiveness and ultimately his panic sent him on a frantic search for escape. The sensations of panic felt by anxiety-prone sufferers can become so intense and overwhelming that they too search for a panacea to relieve their symptoms, and are often seduced by substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors. Other temporary solutions may include withdrawal from social activities or feared environments, and/or inventing elaborate and ritualistic behaviors to trick their fears, i.e., checking their front door exactly ten times before going to bed to ensure a safe nights sleep. Unfortunately efforts to desperately avoid rather than face our fears only perpetuate and intensify the process whenever we feel extreme stress or are confronted with significant life changes.
If chronic anxiety is a factor in your life, you don’t have to face this alone…one often can’t! There are proven treatments that will help you gain control over intrusive thoughts and obsessional behaviors. Furthermore, the steadfast and committed support of a compassionate and specifically trained professional will provide the necessary tools to interrupt your destructive thinking patterns and develop long term solutions for controlling symptoms. Prior to beginning down the Road to recovery, here are some first steps to help you in making informed choices:
1.) Educate: research Anxiety Disorders via online or at your local library. Search out experts in the field such as: Anxiety Disorders Association of America, www.adaa.org, and the International OCD Foundation, www.ocfoundation.org, or just Google, Anxiety Disorders, there are literally dozens of studies, organizations and support groups that offer professional information.
2.) Treatment options: Although treatment is individualized, there are basically two types of treatment proven to be effective for Anxiety Disorders: Psychotherapy that includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and medication.
3.) Physiological Issues: Visit your Primary Care Physician to rule out physiological issues that may cause anxiety, such as overactive thyroid or adrenal gland dysfunction.
When our Lion friend finally owned his courage and confronted OZ, his fears and delusions melted away. Although confronting your anxiety is not an easy task, by taking the initiative to accomplish these three steps you will be on the Road to recovery. A wise person once said, “Fear hinders us, it prevents full involvement with the experiences we are given…experiences that can move us forward in the understanding of ourselves.” When we live in chronic fear, we live in a delusional world.