Anxiety was intended by nature as a safety mechanism that helps keep humans alive, thereby contributing to the continuation of the species. One may think back to the Stone Age to understand how it performed this role. A hunter-gatherer going about his/her business had numerous perils to contend with. Wild animals and even humans from hostile tribes presented serious dangers that could culminate in death. Anxiety helped keep these people on their toes, thus increasing their chances of living to see another day.
Today, civilization has made anxiety much less critical to our survival, but it still serves some use. For example, a bit of anxiety regarding the prevalence of heart disease in modern society ensures that we eat properly, get plenty of exercise and have periodical check-ups. However, when it goes unchecked, instead of helping us take corrective action to avoid a particular danger, anxiety consumes our lives and becomes a danger in itself. At this point it is no longer functioning as it was intended to by nature. The affected individual is said to be suffering of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders come in a number of forms. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following six types:
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Phobias
- Specific Phobias
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Irrespective of which form of anxiety disorder one is suffering from, the consequences are the same. Firstly, the affected individual will experience a degradation in their quality of life. Secondly, if anxiety is left untreated, its physiological effects over prolonged periods could impact the sufferer’s lifespan. Thirdly, in some cases, it could lead to suicide.
It is therefore critical that people who suffer from anxiety act to reduce its devastating effects and hopefully even cure themselves of their ailment. The most important step is the first one – getting diagnosed. Unfortunately, some people may not want to visit a doctor for the simple reason that they are not convinced that they have a genuine medical condition. How many times have we all delayed going to see a doctor until the discomfort becomes too much to bear?
In such cases there is the option of diagnosis through a self-administered test. A short 5-minute test can help determine whether an individual’s levels of anxiety may be categorized as a disorder. Such tests are useful also to those who have every intention of seeing a doctor. Having a better idea of where the problem lies and perhaps doing some research into the specific disorder concerned, allows the doctor-patient interaction to immediately be more focused and for corrective action to start more quickly.
While it is always best to get guidance from a professional, some help is better than none. In this respect, bibliotherapy (self-administered cognitive therapy using self-help books) may be a legitimate alternative. Books like those by Dr. David D. Burns M.D., such as “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” (ISBN: 0380810336) and “The Feeling Good Handbook” (ISBN: 0452281326) have long been favorites of patients and therapists alike. Indeed the latter have been known to prescribe following these books alongside psychotherapy.
Ultimately, if you are reading this because you think that you have problems dealing with anxiety in your life, it is imperative that you get diagnosed and seek the help that suits you best. Whether it is psychotherapy, prescription drugs, bibliotherapy, alternative therapy etc. it does not matter, as long as it suits you and helps make you feel better.