Is This Normal? A Glimpse on Anxiety

By Shenel Gem S. Casaysayan

EMOTION, in its most general definition, is “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” Simply put, it is normal to feel emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety. As students, it is not strange to be anxious about a looming exam or an important project. As teenagers, being struck by nervousness when we send text messages to our crushes should not be alarming. Since anxiety is just a reaction to a situation, one may assume that their own experiences with anxiety are completely normal. However, when is it no longer a mere emotion but instead a mental disorder?

            Anxiety is broadly defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” One may experience constant anxiety that is seemingly unmanageable and besetting. They may even feel extreme and illogical dread in everyday situations. When it already hinders someone from performing their daily activities, he or she may be having an anxiety disorder.

            The World Health Organization named anxiety disorders as the most common mental disorder worldwide. The term “anxiety disorder” branches out into specific psychiatric disorders that involve intense fear or worry. It includes, but is not limited to, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, panic attacks, and certain phobias.

One of the most common types of anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder, otherwise known as social phobia. If left untreated, social phobia can harm a person’s life for years or even a lifetime. People with this disorder may blush, sweat, tremble, or feel nauseous when they are surrounded by a crowd. Because people with social phobia are often embarrassed, self-conscious, and terrified of being judged, they worry for days before a social event, or they avoid social interaction altogether.

            People with GAD persistently and excessively worry over everyday problems even though they have little reason to be so concerned. Because of their anxiousness, they are easily startled and have difficulty in relaxing and concentrating. They feel uneasy to the point that they struggle to either fall or stay asleep. They may experience headaches, muscle aches, or unexplainable pains. When they face stressful situations, their symptoms often worsen. 

            Panic disorders cause people to have spontaneous and repeated spells of fear called panic attacks. During a panic attack, they may hyperventilate or feel as if they cannot breathe, or have a heart attack. Most attacks occur because they feel a sense of unreality, overwhelmed by things that seem out of their control. Most people tend to avoid places where they experienced a panic attack in fear of triggering another episode. Panic attacks do not always point immediately to a panic or anxiety disorder, as anyone could experience a panic attack. However, if the attacks recur abruptly and they make the person anxious and afraid of having another attack at any time, then there is a high possibility that it is a panic disorder. 

            While panic attacks are unprovoked and unpredictable, anxiety attacks are often a reaction to a stressor or a trigger. It is similar to a panic attack in the sense that people may feel afraid, apprehensive, and even experience palpitations and shortness of breath. The main difference is that once the stressor is removed from the scene, the attack becomes more manageable. 

            “Anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable mental health problems we see,” says Dr. Daniel Pine, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist from the National Institutes of Health in the United States. The majority of anxiety disorders improve with the help of therapies and treatments. As of 2018, approximately 3.1 million Filipinos were experiencing some form of anxiety disorder. Yet, despite the availability of treatments, only one-third of those who are affected by anxiety disorders receive the treatment they need to have peace of mind. 

            Although feelings of anxiousness are natural, extreme worry and fear over trivial matters is anything but.