We are all too familiar with anxiety, probably now more than ever. Often associated with intensive stress and worry, anxiety is actually a normal adaptive function stemming from thoughts of past and future events, whether real or imaginative, which assists in resolving stressful situations and motivates to pursue ambitions and goals. This feeling is mutual for everyone; we will all experience anxiety several times in our lives in one way or another.
Anxiety can turn deadly, however, when it leads to excessive, irrational dread of everyday living, which can, in turn, transform into a multitude of disabling disorders. Given the fact that the Huffington Post website has dedicated a page entirely to the rising unemployment rate, combined with the looming threat of national economic collapse, it’s no wonder why The National Institute of Health suggests twenty percent of Americans are affected by some form of severe anxiety disorder.
Last week, I chronicled my past encounter with high anxiety. The intense thoughts and emotions that boiled within me throughout that short span of time soared above and beyond from what one would expect from “teenage angst”. It was triggered initially from the passing of my mother, and the stress that came from her loss resulted in separation anxiety disorder (which is triggered by the loss of significant attachment figures, such as close relatives).
This response went into full effect when school came into session due to the realization that this academic year would be the first I would spend without a mom to come home to. The moment I came across my peers, I suddenly adopted a strong case of social phobia, provoked by my exposure to social settings. The psychological and physical symptoms I experienced on that day are commonly found in most anxiety cases – increased heart rate, uncontrollable thoughts, and avoidance of people or places.
The cause behind this scenario could also have been related to my past case of autism. I base this belief on a recent study in which the results showed that individuals with autism are more susceptible to severe anxiety and avoidance symptoms than those with other behavioral disorders. In the study, young children with autism demonstrated avoidance and repetitive behaviors more frequently than the control groups. And, what seemed to be even more intriguing, was that the majority of the common autistic behaviors recorded bore an uncanny similarity to those found in anxiety disorders, such as avoiding people or events, distress caused by exposure to specific objects, and ordering objects for no reason.
Although both disorders are found to be completely different, the outcome of this study proved that individuals with ASDs display similar levels of anxiety compared to those diagnosed with clinical anxiety. Both disorders have near identical characteristics which make it very difficult to assess both during evaluation. As a result, since symptoms of autism, though similar, overshadow those of anxiety to a mental health professional, an affected child may receive diagnosis and treatment for the former but none for the latter, and more often than not, the child’s obsessive phobias will only worsen as he or she reaches adolescence and adulthood.
Treating anxiety does not have to be challenging or a lifelong commitment like treating autism. If a child or individual has already overcome the perilous behavioral obstacles that autism brings, more than half the battle has already been won.
There are several solutions readily available that I will make note of in the final segment next week. Until then, here is my closing question to readers: When you have been anxious in the past, what exactly have you thought or felt?
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)
Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 4 (2010) 305-313