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The Science Behind Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders (9)

According to the CDC, anxiety is among the five most common mental illnesses, and, like any other mental illness, it's important to be educated on the scientific reasoning behind it in order to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness as a whole as well as to understand the reasoning behind your struggles. It's important to differentiate between normal feelings of anxiety that everyone experiences, like when you're nervous about an upcoming test, and actual anxiety disorders, which are characterized by a constant worrying/fear/stress that effect one's every day life. Some prominent symptoms/signs of anxiety disorders include trouble concentrating on anything but the present worry, feeling restless, panicked, trembling, an increased heart rate, and hyperventilation. Causes of anxiety are still being researched, but studies by the CDC have suggested that in some circumstances, anxiety disorders stem from previous trauma, or a family history of anxiety or other mental illnesses. Other times, a chemical imbalance due to extreme/long lasting stress can lead to anxiety.

A common misconception about anxiety disorders is that there is only one form of anxiety, which is untrue. Anxiety disorders range from separation anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and more. Every type of anxiety disorder is a struggle in its own way (let me know which specific ones you would like me to write about), but a common factor in all anxiety disorders are anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks are typically triggered by a variety of different things, including big stressors or a build up of smaller stressors, and feel like a surge of overwhelming panic and complete loss of control. Chest pains, lightheadedness/dizziness, and heart palpitations are commonly felt too. You do not need to be diagnosed with anxiety to have an anxiety attack. Because there is a lack of diagnostic recognition, the symptoms and signs of anxiety attacks are open to interpretation. I myself have had anxiety attacks, and the one that I remember the most vividly was caused by feeling extremely stressed, burned out, and overwhelmed by school work. Anxiety attacks are one of the worst feelings, but there are strategies to either prevent them when you can feel one coming on, or to help calm yourself down while actually feeling symptoms. Finding an object around you to set all of your focus on helps take your mind off of feelings of panic, and grounding yourself through the 5-4-3-2-1 rule does the same (focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste). Personally, I like to just focus on my breathing in the same way I meditate, by counting the number of heartbeats I feel during each inhale and exhale.

Although anxiety can come in so many different forms and feel like a complete loss of control, it does not define you! You are greater than your anxiety, and any other mental illness, because at the end of the day, despite your battle scars, you are strong enough to be here, alive and breathing, and I think that's beautiful. You can overcome your anxiety, and it's very helpful to see a psychiatrist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. You will feel less alone, and can learn more about how you're feeling through professional medical help. Do you struggle with anxiety? If you do, what are some ways that help calm you down? Please share down below!

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