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If you’re walking in the woods and you spot a bear, you’ll probably feel at least a wee bit anxious. Most likely, your heart rate will spike and a wave of fear will wash over you as your brain processes a jumble of options: Run, scream, freeze. …
“Anxiety is a very normal human experience,” said Luke Raymond, LCPC, manager for Behavioral Health at OSF HealthCare. “We’ve all had anxiety, which is nothing more than the body and brain reacting to a perceived threat.”
But what happens when the immediate threat vanishes and the anxiety lingers? What about when the perceived threat is more hypothetical but it affects your ability to function? Maybe you struggle to sleep, or eat or work; unable to make decisions.
That’s where normal anxiety crosses the line and becomes an anxiety disorder.
No. 1 mental health problem in U.S.
If you are diagnosed with anxiety disorder, the first bit of good news is that you are not alone.
“Anxiety is the No. 1 mental health problem in the United States; more than depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, by far,” Luke said. An estimated 40 million people in the U.S. experience some level of anxiety disorder.
One of the biggest challenges to mental health care providers is pinning down the diagnosis. Blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans and such can specify what ails you physically. Mental health diagnosis is dependent on patient history, professional observation of behavior, interviews with the patient and input from close contacts, such as family, friends and co-workers.
Is it time for you to see a specialist?
Here are some basic questions to ask yourself:
- Do I worry excessively, to the point it causes me problems getting through the day?
- Am I easily irritated or annoyed?
- Am I frequently nervous, anxious or on edge?
- Do I have trouble sleeping?
- Am I motivated to be physically active?
- Do I have stomach problems? Panic attacks? Heart pounding for no real reason?
- Do my thoughts tend to focus on negatives and the worst possible situation?
“If you notice anxiety is impacting or impairing the way you’re getting through your life, that’s a really big red flag you need help,” Luke said.
Anxiety responds well to treatment
Even though general anxiety disorder affects men and women equally, 80% of the people who seek help are women, Luke said.
“Men tend more to that stoicism and rugged individualism,” he said. “But that sometimes leads down a path of not addressing conditions. Often, people will wait too long.”
As with physical diseases, waiting too long to seek help for mental health issues can make treatment more difficult.
But another bit of good news is that general anxiety disorder responds well to different kinds of treatments, including medications, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you more effectively identify and respond to challenges.
“Anxiety is all about negative thoughts and excess worry, so it responds very well to cognitive behavioral therapy,” Luke said. “What we tell people to do is reframe those negative thoughts, help them develop realistic interpretations of events and develop a plan for action when anxiety happens.
“The most important thing to know is, you can get better. Anxiety is a normal thing. Having anxiety disorder does not make you crazy or weak.”
Online app aids treatment
If you are experiencing anxiety, but remain unsure about seeing a specialist, OSF HealthCare offers a digital behavioral health option. It’s called SilverCloud.
The service is available at no cost to anyone who is 18 years old or older and who lives in an area served by an OSF HealthCare facility. Once you have signed up for SilverCloud, a mobile application is available and the service can be accessed 24 hours a day.
“The key that separates SilverCloud from other applications is that it provides the user with an integrated supporter,” Luke said. “The app will help you work through cognitive behavioral therapy content, but we also have a background person who will provide periodic check-ins and reviews and help you if you need connection with a live source.”