Anxiety: Biological vs. Environmental, or Both?
An article in the magazine Marie Claire, featured on WebMD in 2008, revealed that:
- 8% of Americans will suffer anxiety in their lifetime – the highest level in the world.
- $42 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on anxiety disorders.
- $22.8 billion of that goes to addressing anxiety symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
- 7 million women suffer from phobias, the most common form of anxiety.
Stressful Situations Can Trigger Anxiety
Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and seen what you thought may be a fin? Did you have a feeling of instant panic for a moment, fearing that it could be a shark? This is what anxiety is like for those who have it, except that this fear is often present all of the time. Even when things are normal around them, this sudden feeling of panic and/or anxiety can come out of nowhere and hit them like a truck. I have often wondered whether anxiety is hereditary, environmental, or just a combination of the two. Based on my own experiences of counseling those with anxiety, as well as suffering from it myself at different times in my life, I would venture to say that it is a combination of the two. Anxiety often runs in families, and when stressful or traumatic life situations occur they can also trigger it. So, you may ask, what can be done to help those who suffer from anxiety? How do I know if I have anxiety myself?
Do I Suffer from Anxiety?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include the following:
- Restlessness of feeling keyed up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
Note that only one item is required in children.
These symptoms need to be present for at least six months and tend to occur more often than not on most days for the individual. In addition, at least three of the above six symptoms need to have been present for more days than not over the past six months, according to the DSM-5. These symptoms of anxiety also tend to affect one’s functioning at work, school, and in personal relationships with others.
Is there Hope for Anxiety Sufferers?
So, is there any hope for people who suffer from anxiety? The answer is a resounding yes – anxiety is one of the most treatable disorders there is. Fortunately for those who suffer from it, a combination of counseling and medication can treat and often cure this awful illness. Lifestyle changes and behavior modification, as well as relaxation techniques and yoga, are also often very helpful for those with anxiety. Diet and sleep are vital to keeping anxiety at bay, which includes making sure that you don’t skip meals, drinking lots of water, and getting daily exercise in a healthy manner. In addition, having a good support system of family, friends, co-workers, and church groups around you is also important. As with most difficult things in life, no one can do this alone and you should not have to. There is still quite a stigma surrounding mental illness, and unfortunately, it causes those who suffer from anxiety too often suffer in silence.
The Stigma of Anxiety
I recently read a great article by Kristen Bell, a famous funny actress who discussed how she has suffered from anxiety and depression since she was a teenager. She described having to take medication off and on since then to help with her symptoms, and how stigmatizing this can be. In her recent article in
Time magazine, she stated:
There is such an extreme stigma about mental health issues, and I can’t make heads or tails of why it exists. Anxiety and depression are impervious to accolades or achievements. Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone who is struggling with it since nearly 20% of American adults face some form of mental illness in their lifetime. So why aren’t we talking about it?
This is a great question that I ask myself all the time. Why aren’t we talking about anxiety? Where did this stigma come from?
There are so many people in this world, some that I have even known personally, who have taken their own lives due to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that could have been resolved if they had received the right treatment. But often people are scared to reach out, scared of what those around them might think of them. This is especially true if they are the type of person who usually has it all together, or is often the life of the party. This makes it even harder for them to admit that they need help. Instead, they tend to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or whatever soothes the pain and suffering that they experience on a daily basis.
Jesus is With You in Your Anxiety
Besides counseling and medication, what else can help people who suffer from anxiety? For me personally, my faith in Jesus, prayer, and the knowledge that he is never going to leave me alone in my suffering gives me the strength that I need to move forward. As with most people, there have been times in my life where there were bumps and often hardships along the way. Looking back now in my mid-30s, I think, “Wow, I never could have made this journey alone.” And I wasn’t alone, because Jesus was right next to me the entire time, even when I thought that he had given up on me. Have you ever read the poem “Footprints”? It is a beautiful poem that I read as a young child and find meaningful to this day. Here it is if you are not familiar with it:
One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to him and one to the Lord.
After the last scene of his life flashed before him,
He looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that at many times along the path of his life,
Especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
There was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled him, so he asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
There was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed you the most, you would leave me?”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Christian Counseling to Overcome Anxiety
If you are reading this article, this is not an accident. As a Christian counselor, I want you to know that you are never alone. If you suffer from anxiety, I can help. I specialize in treating women and teens who deal with anxiety on a daily basis. I look forward to meeting you and walking with you on your journey of healing, peace of mind, and knowledge that you can and will get better.
“Freedom,” courtesy of Lauren McKinnon, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Setting Sun,” courtesy of Raziel Janeway, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Footprints,” courtesy of Pexels, pixabay.com CC0 Public Domain License; https://flic.kr/p/d9Nphh “Deck Chairs in the Morning Sun,” courtesy of Claudia Gabriela Marques, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-ND 2.0)