Deep breath in… deep breath out… in, out, in, out… Johnny has learned to control his anxiety disorder with breathing techniques and self-monitoring. He knows he’s not like other people. Most people get nervous before an important exam, a big date, soccer tryouts… Maybe they’ll have sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach or a quick heartbeat. Those feelings of anxiousness are normal.
What Johnny experiences differs dramatically from normal feelings of nervousness. His anxiety comes without warning and usually for no reason. “I can be sitting doing homework and I’ll feel it happening. The shaking, and the breathing, and the sweats, and the heart pounding, and the pain in the chest – I feel like I’m having a heart attack or something. But I never do…”
Symptoms of anxiety disorders can make the simplest of life’s routines unbearably uncomfortable. Fortunately Johnny sought help. Never mind the reactions of his friends or family. He had hopes that he could be treated. And he was right.
“Once you acknowledge the truth of a situation, you can fix it in place, understand the dimension of it and see how much possibility there is beyond it” – Michael J. Fox
Anxiety disorders are very commonly experienced at the same time as depression. Much like “the chicken and the egg,” it is often difficult to differentiate between which one came first.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is the third most common psychiatric disorder and is a treatable medical illness. Exact cause is unknown; may be a chemical imbalance in the area of the brain that regulates thinking and mood.
- fear of going to social gatherings
- fear of meeting new people (I might say or do something stupid.)
- fear of being judged by others
Often accompanied by physical symptoms such as: blushing, stammering, blocked speech, sweating, nausea or upset stomach, heart pounding or racing, dry mouth, panic attacks
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This medical illness affecting 1.5 million Canadians is not something you can control on your own but is treatable. Women are more at risk than men and the incidence increases with age. Causes include personal history of depression, drug or alcohol abuse, family history of depression and other anxiety disorders.
- person worries so much, about so many different things, that they begin to feel anxious all the time
- everyday problems become a source of constant anxiety and worry takes over their lives
- person is usually pessimistic and expects the worst about subjects such as: money, health, family, and work – even when there are no signs of trouble
Often accompanied by physical symptoms such as severe muscle tension in neck, back &/or shoulders, trembling or twitching, headaches, irritability, sweating or hot flashes and trouble concentrating.
Women are more likely to develop this treatable medical illness that can be a disorder on its own or may accompany depression. 4% of the population experience a panic attack in their lifetime – this is not panic disorder. The exact cause is still a mystery but research suggests it may be a chemical imbalance in the area of the brain responsible for our ability to respond to perceived dangers, known as the “fight or flight” response. If left untreated it can develop into a serious anxiety disorder causing the person to be unable to perform normal daily activities.
- Onset in late adolescence or early adulthood
- a sudden and unexpected episode of intense and overwhelming fear that has a distinct beginning and end point
- fear is accompanied by symptoms that often mimic heart attacks or being suffocated
- feel like you must flee or escape
- following a panic attack, the person often feels as if they are “going crazy” or having a “nervous breakdown”
A person with Panic Disorder will experience repeated panic attacks that are accompanied by several of the following physical symptoms: chest pain, pressure or discomfort, heart palpitations or rapid heart beat, difficulty breathing or catching your breath, a choking sensation or lump in the throat, excessive sweating; light-headedness or dizziness, tingling or numbness in parts of the body, chills or hot flashes, shaking or trembling, feeling of “unreality” or of being detached from the body.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Usually first occurs in a person’s teen or early adult years but can occur much earlier. This mental illness affects men and women equally. One person in forty suffers from OCD. The exact cause is unknown but research suggests it may be related to a shortage of serotonin (a chemical in the brain that transmits signals between brain cells). Genetic factors may also play a role. OCD will not go away by itself without proper medical treatment.
CHARACTERIZED BY: (two-part medical illness)
- Obsessions: worrying excessively about something which in turn causes a great deal of anxiety or distress to the person (e.g. persistent fears of contamination by dirt or germs; thoughts of being responsible for harm to one’s self or others, etc.)
- Compulsions: ritual or routines that people with OCD are compelled to do, to help control the anxiety caused by the obsession (e.g. repeated washing of hands; things must always be placed precisely
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In any given year, 5% of the population will suffer from PTSD, which can be caused by events such as : natural disasters (flood, tornado, hurricane), accidents (car, plane, boat, train, sports), physical attacks (assault, rape) and military combat.
- the reaction to the traumatic event causes intense fear, helplessness or horror.
- a continual re-experience of the traumatic event over and over again, sometimes for months or years
- often have flashbacks or recurring nightmares
- may have problems sleeping or be “overly” alert, anticipating another traumatic event
Mental Health Estrie offers support groups for family and friends who have a loved one coping with a mental illness. For more information, click here.
Mental Health Estrie offers support groups for individuals coping with a lived experience of mental illness. For more information, click here.