With anxiety-related problems (including depression as such a problem), we watch ourselves in everything we do and it's not difficult to appreciate how this self-absorption can lead us to believe that we are the only one with such a problem. This, in itself, strengthens the 'what's wrong with me' beliefs, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Millions of people worldwide experience these problems; it is estimated that in America alone over thirty million people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. The most common one is Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia), closely followed by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Around one in thirty to fifty people suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and one in ten are reported to have a specific phobia. This doesn't include vast numbers of people who have depression or those living anxious lives ruled by shyness or stress.
Many people feel they are working below their potential and are frustrated, more people are unhealthy and overweight than ever before, greater numbers of teenagers are depressed and problems involving anxiety and stress account for the majority of visits to doctor's surgeries. In a world of better education, food, hygiene and healthcare, emotionally, society is crumbling.
The unique pressures in modern society no doubt play a part in the tension and stress found in these problems, but anxiety problems are nothing new; they are part of the human condition and the following quotation, from over three hundred years ago, sums them up aptly:
'The mind is it's own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven'
- John Milton (1608-1674)
For centuries, writers, poets and artists have tried to convey the inner turmoil and conflict that is often associated with existence.
The world we live in personally is dictated by what goes on in our mind, irrespective of what external reality seems to be. Nowhere can this be seen more profoundly than in the case of Anorexia Nervosa. How can a painfully thin girl look in the mirror and see herself as fat? Even to the extent of pointing out which areas of her body are too fat? Anxiety problems are reality to us ... but how do we get like this?
Vast resources, in the form of research, therapy and medication, have been used in an attempt to resolve these problems, with, on the whole, a spectacular lack of success. Problems are defined, named, classified, listed, ordered, placed in categories, placed in sub-categories in an attempt to understand and control them - strangely enough, exactly the same attempts to gain control are found in most forms of OCD. And while some argue that benefits of this system include a more accurate diagnosis and subsequent better treatment (which is debatable given such a lack of success) others argue that it is inaccurate, misleading and overlooks the bigger picture.
When we look at the backgrounds of large numbers of people with anxiety and depression problems, they are often strikingly similar in various ways. Negative life experiences and subsequent feelings involving self worth and insecurity occur across the board with such regularity and are so similar that its hard to see how they cannot possibly play a major role in these problems.
Ranging from acute shyness and stress to anxiety disorders and depression, each problem is unique to the individual. Expressions of social phobia vary from person to person just as those of agoraphobia vary from panic disorder and GAD varies from OCD. However, as unique to the individual these problems are and as different to each other they are, these problems develop for similar reasons and strengthen in a similar way. They do so in a manner that reflects the way our mind and body works. Every human being on the planet (indeed, every animal) is built in such a way as to develop an anxiety disorder given the right (or wrong) set of negative life experiences.
Anxiety disorders (and severe depression) develop from our life experiences (bad ones) and how they affect us. At their heart lies neither illness nor disease and not even disorder for these problems aren't irrational, they develop for a good reason - for our survival. They are self-destructive behaviours that we learn, behaviours that reflect our inner-self trying to protect us. Behaviours that, in trying to help us survive, actually cause us harm for they never 'touch' the real problem. Once we understand how we learn these behaviours and why, there is a real cure.
By Terry Dixon B.Sc.
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