Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Through Her Mind: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.”

-Maya Angelou

It is difficult to grasp the true weight of experiencing an Anxiety Disorder. My roommate this semester has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. With her permission, I conducted an interview to understand what her experiences with anxiety have been like. Being so close to the source and helping her through this rough time, I have also made my own observations, and experiences which will be discussed below.

Question: Are there any questions that you find people ask you too often?

Response: I think the question I get the most often is “How are you?”. It is not a bad question but asking it over and over again does not change my response nor does it make me feel better. Other common questions are “Have you been better lately?”, “Is there anything I can do for you?”, “Are you feeling any better?”. I always appreciate the concern but the circumstances don’t change. It’s like being set on fire and someone asking the same question, the circumstance is horrendous, it hasn’t changed and the question doesn’t help to smother the flame.

Q: What coping mechanisms have you found most beneficial?

R: Checking the facts, distraction, exercising and holding ice cubes have helped. The three I mentioned first are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills. Checking the facts is a great skill because it allows me to realize how justifiable my emotions are in a situation. Distraction is great because when you are drowning in stress and misery this skill allows you to step away, gather yourself and then conquer it later. For me exercising and holding ice cubes are the blurred line between self-harm and coping. While they do distract me from my current situation, the physical pain from the workout or from the ice cube that slowly numbs my hand fuels me to keep going. As I reach my threshold for pain tolerance it helps me feel like I am in control of what happens and takes my mind off of the emotional and mental pain.

Q: Have your interactions changed since sharing your diagnosis with others? If so, how?

R: Everything changed. While I had a few trusted people that saw the signs of my illness and accepted it, they become more worried about me than I would have wished. I have begun to feel very alone and mute since I was “labeled”. Everyone is so eager to help me get better that they are literally throwing themselves at me. While there is a sense of support, I feel pressure because they all want to see results that I don’t think I am capable of giving them. Too much of a good thing is never good and sadly that applies to good intentions too. It is hard to explain to people who “check up” on me every day that I am not getting better and that even though I am in a crowd of caring voices I feel alone, mute, and lost.

Q: What does Anxiety feel like for you?

R: Anxiety is like having my phone constantly buzzing with reminders but not being able to turn it off because some part of me needs it. I may wish to decrease the amount of reminders or silence the volume. But, I can not distinguish which reminders are valuable and which ones are not.

Q: What does depression feel like for you?

R: It is more than the feeling the world is over because you failed a test. It is the constant assurance of being a failure and a burden to others just by existing.

Q: What advice would you give or have you given to your friends that are still in the hospital?

R: I would tell them that even though today is awful, you have to just get through it in hopes that tomorrow will be a better day even if you truly believe that it won’t be. We may not have chosen this mental illness, but it chose us. All we can do it try to take back control one day at a time…if that’s even possible.

My roommate has come a far distance but definitely has further to go. Each day is a battle of life falling apart quicker than she can pick up the pieces and before she realizes the pieces turn to dust unable to be mended back to its original form. Yet, she has to proceed with everyday activities while managing anxiety and battling depression. Many days turn out well, but each still feels as bad as the last.  Although she may not believe the next day will be better, she has the courage to proceed, refusing to allow these illnesses to control her. This journey of my roommate has been tough to witness and seems to encounter a new phase every week. Yet, I am constantly reminded of the analogy of being a caged bird. In the midst of all this darkness and difficulty she still sings hoping that this season will soon pass. Longing to be freed from the shackles of anxiety and depression, she shall not be defeated.


Sara Biljana Gaon. (2015 June 25). Caged Bird [image]. Retrieved from

Maya Angelou. (1969). I know why the caged bird sings [poem]. Retrieved from

Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Social Anxiety Disorder and Body Language

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner”

– Lao Tzu

In a society ruled by virtual interactions and relationships, it almost seems normal to approach social situations with awkwardness. When meeting new people or interacting with a crowd the common response is shyness. However, after a few minutes, it becomes easier to be more vulnerable and engaged with the once unfamiliar bodies, faces, and voices. Yet, for individuals with social anxiety disorder self-consciousness escalates and consumes not only the person’s thoughts but also their actions. Social anxiety is the intense fear of being judged, evaluated negatively or rejected by others in social situations. 

Individuals with social anxiety disorder may experience distress in situations such as going to social gatherings, using public restrooms, eating in front of others, talking with strangers, and making eye contact. In uncomfortable situations, social anxiety disorder can manifest itself into physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dizziness, trembling and/or diarrhea. On the other hand, physiological or behavioral symptoms may include: avoidance of social interactions, intense fear of embarrassment, and having anxiety in anticipation of a social event. Social anxiety may be influenced by genetics, prior negative experience or embarrassment, or an overactive amygdala, which is responsible for fear. Common treatments for social anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, group therapy and certain medications. CBT is typically used for reframing negative thoughts, controlling anxiety through relaxation, and can help an individual learn practical social skills. Exposure therapy is used to gradually expose the individual to stimuli that makes them fearful. Similarly, group therapy allows the individual to overcome their fear of social situations by interacting and role-playing with individuals who are also experiencing social anxiety. Lastly, medications such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medication are commonly given as treatments for social anxiety disorder. These forms of medication work by suppressing the effects of norepinephrine which is a stress hormone or by inhibiting the re-uptake of serotonin and other ‘feel good’ hormones thereby allowing them to circulate in the blood and body a bit longer. 

A less commonly used form of treatment may include understanding and identifying the significance of body language. Certified fraud examiner and body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards believes that understanding body language is the key for liberation from social anxiety. In Edwards’ opinion, body language is like a human cipher, it reveals a set of values you can use to figure out motivations, values, how to speak to people and how to make people feel loved. In addition, Edwards mentions that understanding facial structures can be beneficial to understand emotional expressions. However, it is vital to first understand the baseline or normal expression and observe the changes that occur with different emotions. In the book “What Every Body is Saying”, FBI agent Joe Navarro decodes certain aspects of body language. For example, Navarro mentions that neck touching reveals discomfort, doubt or insecurity, and that eye deflection reveals distrust. Understanding the way a person walks can also reveal how they feel in that moment and where they want to go (either to leave or to stay). From the photo provided above, one can read varying emotions of shame, anger, pride, apathy, happiness, and sadness that each face expresses.

Understanding these forms of body language and what they mean can help individuals with social anxiety feel more comfortable in certain situations through the ability to read their environment and the people surrounding them. Knowing how people move, and observing their facial expressions can make social situations less fearful and offers an escape from catastrophizing thoughts. The use of body language can help individuals experiencing social anxiety to alter the way other people perceive them and offer an outlet by truly understanding the behaviors of others.


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Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Beyond Medication: You Have Options

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”


Before becoming a physician, many medical students take an oath commonly referred to as the Hippocratic Oath. This code of ethics not only dictates the roles of physicians, teachers, and students of medicine but also requires physicians to make a commitment to only provide beneficial treatments, reduce the risk of harm and refrain from corrupted or mischievous behaviors. The code also mentions controversial topics such as a physician’s role of engaging in abortions and euthanasia. Social, economic and political changes have influenced the modification of the oath. But, in doing so it is possible that Hippocrates’ intent has been ignored. Although little is known of this Greek “Father of Medicine”, he was a huge proponent of holistic, natural or as we say today alternative medicine.

Natural medicine has been overlooked and outsourced to make room for pharmaceutical medication. While pharmaceutical medication, which has become the conventional form of medicine proves to be beneficial, it is commonly used as a sole source of treatment rather than a supplement to natural remedies. Natural medicine may involve the use of acupuncture, pilates, meditation, therapeutic massages, proper nutrition and the use of herbs such as sage, rosemary, ginger, and lavender. However, these unregulated sources of treatment prove as a threat for multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industries such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. While the FDA regulates medication for safety and efficacy for Americans, there is an overabundance of medication and pharmaceutical companies the department is responsible for. Therefore, it takes a while before pharmaceutical companies are fined for mislabeling and/or over-promoting their medication for use by vulnerable populations such as individuals under the age of 18 or those with a mental disorder.

Individuals experiencing mental illness such as depression or anxiety, consent to pharmaceutical medication with an inordinate amount of side effects usually without the option to pursue holistic treatments. For example, pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy medications such as benzodiazepines, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, buspirone, and pregabalin are commonly prescribed to patients diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, they carry side effects such as dizziness, sedation, agitation, amnesia, insomnia, and organ damage, thereby creating a paradoxical effect of worsening anxiety disorder symptoms and creating new ailments. On the other hand, herbs such as passionflower and kava have been shown to reduce nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia in patients diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and show less side effect than their pharmaceutical counterpart.

No treatment is perfect. Both herbal medicine and pharmaceutical medicine have risks of side effects and both industries make large profits in the realm of health. However, natural medicine is significantly cheaper than conventional forms of medication but is rarely given as a treatment option. A study published in the Journal of Health Services Research revealed that doctors will commonly use natural remedies for their illness but will not recommend them to patients. Therefore, consumers are left with the responsibility of understanding and expanding their options, yet many are unaware that they even have an option. Maybe it is easier to prescribe medication than to try convincing individuals to make positive lifestyle changes. But, why settle for less with our health. Don’t we deserve to have options?


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Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Mastering Your Mind: Cognitive Distortions

Anxiety is like having new tabs opening very quickly [on your computer] one after another and not being able to close them or stop new ones from opening — but in your head. It happens while working, taking care of kids, driving, answering questions, and a million other things that people do in a day.”

– Unknown

While there are many visible physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and muscle twitches, some of the most damaging symptoms remain captured in the mind. Many individuals with anxiety can experience overwhelming, intrusive and unrelenting thoughts that interfere with their daily productivity.

While the exact cause of anxiety is unknown, cognitive distortions are believed to be a factor in the development and maintenance of this mental illness. Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts and beliefs that are reinforced over time and have the potential to cause psychological harm. Clinical psychologist Jeffrey DeGroat believes that anxiety arises when a person’s cognitive distortions, or irrational thought patterns, make them see everything as a physical threat, whether it’s an actual physical danger or not. For example, almost getting into a car accident is a physical threat. But, having a cashier at the supermarket engage you in conversation is not an actual physical danger. 

Two of the most common forms of cognitive distortions include: mental filtering and jumping to conclusions. Mental filtering is the inability to focus on the positive aspects of a situation.  Individuals with this cognitive distortion tend to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. This mentality can become problematic, as it may result in depressed mood, low self-esteem, and pessimism with an associated feeling of incompetence. On the other hand, jumping to conclusion is the premise that individuals believe something despite not having accurate evidence to support it. This cognitive distortion is comparable to buying a house without looking on the inside simply because the outside looks nice with freshly cut lawn. Jumping to conclusion not only has a negative effect on the individual but also makes judgments about the surrounding things or people. Similarly to mental filtering, this comparison mentality encourages pessimism, feelings of inadequacy and may foster other mental illnesses such as depression.

However, hope is not lost when battling with cognitive distortions. There are many methods and beneficial techniques that can help slow down and combat these anxious thoughts. Reframing, for example, is a strategy used to alter one’s perspective on a specific situation. This technique provides an optimistic strategy to an otherwise negative situation by identifying and invalidating the thoughts. Getting thoughts down on paper and journaling is another method used to combat intrusive thoughts as it allows the individual to identify a thought, focus on what triggered it and then dissect it. Through this method, individuals can destroy the validity of certain thoughts so that when they arise again, they will be easier to combat. Lastly, research suggests that affiliative and self-enhancing humor can be a beneficial strategy to cope with cognitive distortions. Affiliative humor is used to amuse others and minimize tension while self-enhancing humor is the use of humor in the face of adversity. Therefore, maybe laughter is indeed the best form of medicine.

Overall, while cognitive distortions may be a factor in the development of anxiety disorders, the presence or absence of the aforementioned distortions, neither confirms nor denies a proper diagnosis of anxiety. While these cognitive distortions may become overwhelming, there are different methods available for coping, such as journaling or using humor. With these strategies, those struggling with anxiety and cognitive distortions can take positive steps to become masters of their own mind.


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Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

The Unspoken: Anxiety and the Church

“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” 

-Kenneth Hagin

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Philippians 4:6-7

Often times with good intentions, mature Christians may sometimes give this verse to individuals suffering with anxiety. But overcoming an issue can sometimes be more difficult than a simple phrase can solve. Usually, miscommunications can occur because the signs are not visually obvious. Similar to a headache, there may not always be external indicators to make anxiety appear as a problem. Therefore, because anxiety is not tangible we may not believe that it actually exists or we simply don’t know the best strategy to combat it. But, to the individual experiencing it, it is real and it is difficult to get through. In this case, though intentions are pure, simply quoting a bible verse may not always be the best way to approach the situation when someone confides in you with their mental health struggle.

Despite technological advances in the health field, the exact cause of anxiety is unknown. Anxiety disorders go beyond everyday stress and may sometimes involve feelings of excessive fear or worry that interfere with progress and functionality. With anxiety disorders, the body reacts as if danger is present when there is no actual threat. The body sounds all the alarms to the sympathetic nervous system to prepare for fight or flight, when in truth no harm is present. This overactivity of the bodily systems could result in fatigue or have other damaging effects. Many people with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, experience irritability, or have racing thoughts. Though the struggle with this mental illness may seem endless, there is hope because anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Nevertheless, while approximately 44 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders, only one-third of those struggling actually seek and receive treatment. Professor and clinical psychologist Ryan Howes believes that many people do not seek out therapy or other forms of treatment because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. Society has placed a negative connotation on seeking help in general as it may be perceived as a sign of weakness, and even more so as it relates to mental illnesses. This concept could become especially damaging to individuals who feel as though they have to live up to a certain reputation to fit into their cultural, racial or religious group.

According to Focus On The Family, a Christian faith-based website, stigmas within the Christian community is a major factor why individuals may not seek help or even admit that they are suffering with an anxiety disorder. Some Christians may feel hopeless and begin to believe that this battle is a sign of spiritual failure. Yet there are many biblical figures that have faced their own battles with spiritual and mental health.

Mental illness is not always the result of a spiritual struggle. However, religious ideologies and criticism from fellow believers could negatively impact one’s mental health. Though there is limited research on the topic of religion and Christianity, a study performed by Kenneth Kendler and colleagues, revealed that different religious aspects could dictate someone’s relationship with a mental illness. Internalizing disorders include depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. On the other hand, externalizing disorders involved issue relating to substance abuse or dependence. According to Agorastos et al, negative religious perceptions could include beliefs that God has abandoned that individual or is punishing them, and worsen internalizing disorders such as anxiety. On the other hand, positive religious behavior including worship, fellowship, thankfulness, prayer and reading the bible was associated with better mental health, thereby reducing (not eradicating) both externalizing and internalizing disorders. This reveals, that even with a positive and devoted Christ following lifestyle, that individuals may still suffer from mental health issues.

Upon acknowledging that religious and spiritual resources do not make Christians absolutely immune to mental health issues, some may accept mental health as a serious issue worthy of taking note of. However, the response for ‘acceptable’ treatment could be burdensome. In her testimony, Christian singer, songwriter and inspirational speaker, Sheila Walsh, mentioned that she talked to a mother whose child was battling with mental health. She said, “My daughter has struggled for years with depression but she started to work with a church that doesn’t believe Christians should take medication. My daughter took her own life.” Though truly heartbreaking and painful to admit, more situations like this need to be brought to light. Everyone is different, and what works for one individual may not work so well for another. While there have been testimonies where through prayer and petition individuals have claimed receive instant healing from God, this may not always be the case. For example, Walsh mentions that medication has helped and she thanks God each day that He has made this resource available and possible for her.

Many are wary of using secular methods versus spiritual ones in the treatment of illnesses such as anxiety. However, psychologists are now beginning to understand the benefit of spirituality. For example, Kenneth Pargament an expert in the psychology of religion and spirituality mentions that psychologists are currently developing and evaluating spiritual integration into their treatment approaches (typically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Therefore, this once secular method of treating mental illnesses is now incorporating mantras from the Bible and utilizing other spiritual resources.

Nevertheless, regardless of the method of treatment whether it be medication or prayer for healing from anxiety, individuals should not be criticized for their choice. As aforementioned, many biblical figures have struggled with issues that did not arise from a lack of faith. For example, in the New Testament, Paul mentions that he had a “thorn in his flesh” (not a literal one). After pleading with God for its removal, God did not take it away but rather said, “My Grace is sufficient”. God lovingly denied this request so that in weakness, through Him believers could be made strong. Mental health is not an issue of faith. But, in the church, it may be an issue of perspective. We forget that many in the Bible have struggled and that God is not a magical fairy that grants our every wish.

The church may sometimes alienate and criticize fellow believers because of their battles. In doing so judgment takes root and makes people feel as though they have strayed away and that God is no longer willing to help them. However, that is not truly the case. The book of Romans mentions that nothing can separate anyone from God’s love. Through anxiety, depression or any other mental health battle, God’s love never ceases. Church can no longer be a place where individuals quietly suffer from their mental illness. We need to band together and permit these tough and awkward conversations. We need to listen, be respectful and offer a helping hand. We cannot solve issues if they remain to be hidden and unspoken.


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