People with anxiety disorders can struggle with fears and worry about a wide variety of things. These can range from snakes to open spaces, from social situations to simply leaving their homes. Anxiety disorders can cause people to greatly overestimate the actual danger posed by these things and attempt to avoid them. As a result, their lives may become progressively restricted.
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Fear is the emotional reaction we have to danger, and anxiety is the apprehension people experience thinking about possible future danger.
These are natural responses that have kept us safe from real danger throughout human evolution. A life without any fear and anxiety probably would not last long.
Anxiety and fear bring on the “fight-or-flight” response. An elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, tensed muscles, wide open eyes, and heightened senses ready the body for an encounter with danger. These responses served humans well when our lives were threatened on a daily basis by predators and other threats in the environment.
However, now we live relatively safe lives and lack many of the natural threats in the world that our predecessors feared, but we still have the predisposition to be wary. Most of the time we have been able to adapt. We know that the people at our new job are not out to get us and that leaving the home is perfectly safe.
But for some people, a combination of powerful genetics and the right environment can prime the natural fear responses to react to things that are really quite safe.
Who gets Anxiety Disorders?
One in five Americans
Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental illnesses in America. They strike over 40 million people in the United States every year – that’s almost one in five.
Anxiety and depression very commonly occur together. Half of all people with depressive disorders also have an anxiety disorder.
This personality trait describes people who are more likely to view new environments as dangerous and are more likely to be fearful and anxious.
Various kinds of trauma early in life like neglect or abuse can prime the brain for anxiety disorders by increasing anxiety sensitivity.