Uncertainty, unpredictability, uncontrollability. Eek! Run for cover. Fear of the unknown is called anticipatory anxiety. You anticipate the “what ifs” and worry until the cows come home. Thoughts ruminate around and around like a blender inside your head.
“As a rule, humans prefer certainty to uncertainty. Studies have shown that people would rather definitely get an electric shock now than maybe be shocked later and show greater nervous-system activation when waiting for an unpredictable shock (or unpleasant stimulus) than an expected one. Where people differ is in the degree to which uncertainty bothers them,” according to a 2015 article in The Atlantic.
How do you experience anxiety?
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” —Epictetus
Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety. See their complete stories at www.thelily.com.
“I can only describe it as being on the most rickety roller coaster you can imagine. The anxiety builds the same way the anticipation of climbing to the apex, and for a moment, everything slows as I reach the top before everything picks up speed.”
“My brain is going a million miles a minute to try to solve a nonexistent problem. This is how I experience anxiety.”
“It starts first thing in the morning when I open my eyes. I start thinking about work and every possible scenario that could go wrong, not just work, but basically every aspect of my life. It is self-sabotage at its best.”
Women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms are common. Anxiety disorders are common in women with certain diseases that cause chronic pain, including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine.For more information visit www.womenshealth.gov.
Types of anxiety
Individuals need to be cautious or concerned, but worrying is not helpful. However, humans need a fear response for survival. Being afraid of a poisonous snake alerts us to step away into a safe zone. “Fear is the emotional response to a real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is the anticipation of future threat,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).
Humans experience anxiety from time to time because life happens. Anxiety is a reaction to stress. And being alive means you will experience bouts of stress. The key is to keep coping skills in your resilience toolbox.
“My anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”—Hugh Prather
When does anxiety become a disorder?
An anxiety disorder produces intense and excessive emotional responses, along with other debilitating symptoms. Your anxiety response is disproportionate to that stressor. Types of anxiety disorders include: separation anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and agoraphobia.
Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
It’s estimated that 970 million people worldwide had a mental or substance use disorder in 2017. The largest number of people had an anxiety disorder, estimated at around four per cent of the population. Globally an estimated 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent mental health.Visit www.ourworldindata.org/mental-health.
Anxiety disorders are treatable
Treatment for anxiety disorders depends on the type of disorder you have and your personal history. Treatment includes therapy or a combination of counseling and medication. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help a person learn a different way of thinking, reacting and behaving to help feel less anxious. Mindfulness meditation and yoga are other effective techniques for some. Adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition are important.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in the US.