Worry and Anxiety

Anxiety and worry are normal human emotions.  We all feel nervous or anxious at times in response to stress and uncertainty.  In small amounts, anxiety can be good.  It alerts us to the need to plan ahead and take action to reach our goals and to avoid harm.

When it is severe, prolonged or seemingly uncontrollable, anxiety can cause physical and/or emotional damage.  If you worry for hours every day, can’t sleep, or avoid important activities because they provoke anxiety for you, then anxiety is interfering with your life.

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all emotional disorders.  Frequently they begin in childhood and adolescence; prevalence rates for teens are between 15% and 20%.   In any given year, over 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders.

Everyday anxiety or an anxiety disorder?

The following chart adapted from one developed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) provides some guidelines for distinguishing everyday anxiety from anxiety disorders:

Everyday Anxiety Anxiety Disorder
Mild worry about finances, relationships, work or other important life events Worry that causes significant distress and continues for many weeks
Embarrassment or self-consciousness in an uncomfortable or awkward social situation Avoiding social situations for fear of being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated
A case of nerves or sweating before a job interview, public speaking, or other significant event Highly uncomfortable anxiety attacks and continued fear of having another one
Realistic fear of a dangerous object, place, or situation Irrational fear or avoidance of an object, place, or situation that poses little or no threat of danger
Making sure that you are healthy and living in a safe, hazard-free environment Performing uncontrollable repetitive actions such as washing hands, checking locks, touching and/or arranging
Anxiety, sadness, or difficulty sleeping immediately after a traumatic event Recurring nightmares, flashbacks, or emotional numbing related to a traumatic event that occurred several months or years before

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Children and adolescents can also suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder

Co-Occurring Conditions

It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.  Substance abuse, sleep disorders, and physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems are also common.

Treatment

Anxiety disorders are treatable, and most people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care.  Treatment may include psychotherapy, medication, alternative approaches, or a combination of these.  If you are wondering whether you or a loved one has an anxiety disorder and could benefit from treatment, contact the BMC Employee Assistance office (for BMC employees) at 1-800-435-1986, or BU Faculty Staff Assistance Office (for BU employees) at 617-353-5381 to arrange an appointment.

Resources:

BMC:
BMC EAP – confidential counseling via toll-free phone line or in person for BMC employees and eligible dependents.
Integrative medicine – patients and staff are offered a variety of integrative services at no charge or for a modest fee.
Stress Reduction and Relaxation Training Clinic in the Behavioral Medicine Department, Adult Primary Care, Boston Medical Center. Located in Shapiro 5B. Please call 617-414-5951 for an appointment.

BU:
Faculty and Staff Assistance Office – free, confidential counseling and referral service for faculty, staff and their families with locations on both Medical and Charles River campuses

Online:
National Institute for Mental Health – information about types of anxiety disorders in adults and children, and about treatment options
Freedom From Fear – fact sheets regarding anxiety disorders, and information on causes and treatment
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – information about anxiety and depression, including screening test
Calm Clinic – tips for coping with anxiety and panic 
Cope Care Deal – website for teens with information on anxiety disorders
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – children and anxiety disorders