By Paula Rainer, Ph.D.
When we perceive an event as disturbing or threatening, we experience stress.Our ancestors experienced stress when they had to fight off wild animals and other threats to their survival.Today, it is more likely the overwhelming responsibilities at work or home, the experience of loneliness, rejection, or the fear of losing our job that causes our stress. This stress may cause us to experience the “fight or flight response”.
To prepare for fighting or fleeing, the body increases its heart rate and blood pressure. This sends more blood to our heart and muscles, and our respiration rate increases. We become vigilant and tense. Our bodies end up of full alert and this allows us to take action. When these stress-inducing conditions continue over a long period of time, they may have a significant impact on how we live and we may begin to suffer from one of the anxiety disorders.
Research indicates that anxiety disorders are the leading emotional health disorders for women and are second only to substance abuse among men. It is estimated that anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year. More than $22 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of healthcare services.
Prolonged anxiety is demanding on our bodies and our lives in general. The constant state of “fight or flight” may cause heart palpitations, dizziness, trembling or shaking, increased blood pressure, sweating, choking, high stomach acidity, nausea, chest discomfort, or muscle spasms. We may feel detached or out of touch with reality or think we are dying or going crazy. There is evidence that prolonged anxiety can lead to heart disease and a compromised immune system. It depletes our energy and interferes with concentration. We may become abrupt with other people and engage in emotional outbursts or even physical violence. Our relationships and job security may be jeopardized. People who experience prolonged anxiety are more prone to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Treatment for anxiety is available and generally very effective. The solution to dealing with anxiety is to acquire the skills needed to feel empowered. We need to explore the strengths that we already have for coping with stress as well as to learn new coping skills. A professional therapist has a number of specific techniques for the treatment of anxiety as well as overall life strategy plans for dealing with problems and other life experiences. Research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques are particularly effective in reducing anxiety. The bottom line is that no one should unnecessarily suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can be managed successfully.