Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Test Performance Anxiety

You failed yet another exam. You studied for several days and you were sure that you knew the answer to any question that could be thrown your way. There’s something about this class that gets the best of you, that makes you feel like success is not within your reach. Maybe it is because of all the rumors that you heard about the tests being difficult. Or maybe it’s because you know that without this class, you cannot graduate and therefore, failure is not an option. But somehow, during the exam your mind just went blank, like you never studied at all. As if the countless hours you hovered over your laptop and notes was just a waste of time. If you feel anything like this you may be suffering from performance debilitating test anxiety.

Test performance anxiety is when someone has the tendency to judge or rate a situation that they are being evaluated in as threatening. Types of situations that could amplify these symptoms could be in an actual exam, public speaking, or driving tests. Test performance anxiety can act as a perceived threat to one’s goals, aspirations, self-worth, or identity. Therefore, this disorder is more than regarding poor outcomes on a test, but also the feeling of failure in poor outcomes in everyday life events.

The three cognitive components associated with test anxiety are worried thoughts, interference, and lack of confidence. To further elaborate, worried thoughts refer to the overwhelming fear of the test itself and how the possible outcome can affect the student. The interference component refers to getting distracted or thinking of irrelevant thoughts, whether it occurs while preparing for the exam or during the exam itself. Examples of irrelevant thoughts include thinking about what to have for dinner, or what happened in the latest episode of one’s favorite television show, rather than focusing on the important task at hand. Lastly, there’s the lack of confidence that is associated with test performance anxiety. It is said that when you say or do things in a confident manner, one can possibly have someone believe anything. The same applies to taking an exam. If you are confident in the effectiveness of your studying while taking the exam, the outcome can be totally different. When going into an exam with the perception that you have already failed, you might do just that because of the lack of confidence in yourself.

Worrying about the future is a common thing for a human being to do. Someone who suffers from test performance anxiety may have this constant worry that can hinder their everyday life. It is as if they are putting on a show and one mistake can ruin the whole production. That is what it feels like to those who suffer from this intense form of anxiety. Every decision in life that makes them feel like they are being evaluated. They feel judged for every decision they make and ruminate how it can negatively impact their life in the future.

Test performance anxiety can go beyond the classroom, as mentioned before. It is healthy and normal to be nervous about a situation you are being evaluated in, whether it be a driving test or public speaking. It shows that you care about the situation and how it will impact you later on. However, it becomes debilitating when the performance anxiety takes an attack on your confidence and brings about a worry that hinders you from performing well from the start. Let us practice confidence in all that we do. Let the implication of confidence change our daily lives. Even small things, such as the way we walk, can add the right push to overall self-confidence. When you go into an exam thinking that the worst is inevitable, you lose sight of the situation and set yourself up for failure. Those who suffer from test performance anxiety can overcome the obstacles given to them, one stride at a time.

References

Putwain, D. W., & Symes, W. (2018). Does increased effort compensate for performance debilitating test anxiety? School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 482–491. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1037/spq0000236

Raufelder, D., & Ringeisen, T. (2016). Self-perceived competence and test anxiety: The role of academic self-concept and self-efficacy. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(3), 159–167. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1027/1614-0001/a000202

Single frustrated student girl trying to understand notes sitting in a bar. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/single-frustrated-student-girl-trying-understand-708181519?irgwc=1&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=Pixabay+GmbH&utm_source=44814&utm_term=https://pixabay.com/images/search/test%20anxiety/.

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Death Anxiety: The Real Killer

You’re in the hallway in between your room and the bathroom. You’re frozen still; it feels as though your whole body has gone cold. You don’t know how you got there, but somehow you can’t move no matter how many times you try to. You hear choking and gasping sounds coming from down the hall. Your eyes zero in and focus. You see it is your relative. You scream, but no sound comes out. Just as the hopelessness creeps in to consume you, you wake up in a pool of sweat, your chest heaving up and down rapidly. Yes, you had that dream again.

Nightmares occur to all of us, sometimes more to some than others, especially when a traumatic experience has occurred to you or a loved one. Any near-death experience can be damaging long-term. It can cause PTSD, as well as death anxiety. Death anxiety, also known as thanatophobia, is the fear of one’s death or the process of dying. This overwhelming sense of fear can stem from the realization that death is inevitable, for you and for the loved ones in your life. This can be a gateway to the fear of dealing with loss and the fear of separation. Death anxiety does not always arise when someone experiences a near-death experience, as the fear can come about randomly. Granted, the fear of death and the idea of loved ones dying are common. However, it becomes an issue when it affects daily life. Tasks such as going to work or school or simply getting out of bed may feel like a huge hurdle to someone who suffers from death anxiety because it restricts them from being able to step foot out of their house in fear of stepping into their last day on Earth.

When the heavy weight of fear starts to creep up on people who suffer from death anxiety, symptoms can include panic attacks, hot flashes, dizziness, sweating, irregular heart rate, stomach pains, feeling sick, etc. All of these physical issues can arise in a person because of the mere thought of death. Depression can occur as well as other mental illnesses such as PTSD, panic disorders, or specific phobias that can link to death.

Death anxiety can also stem from sustaining an injury. Studies have shown that people who sustained a spinal injury had high levels of death anxiety and PTSD. Spinal injuries can easily lead to paralysis and other health issues that can end in death. Also, people who have contracted HIV have higher levels of death anxiety because society has stigmatized HIV so much thinking if you contract this virus, it is a death sentence; thoughts of death are bound to arise and cloud the mind of this person. Overall, being placed under these stressful conditions can be the beginning of death anxiety.

A possible solution to death anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which works by gradually altering a person’s behavior or the way they think. Exposure therapy is another possible treatment, which involves gradually exposing the person to their fear, with hopes that the individual will slowly overcome it. In addition, this type of therapy confronts their feelings, aiming to find the source of these fears. Lastly, it is important to be there for the person suffering from death anxiety as a friend because it can be easy for an individual to forget their options. As a result, a friend’s presence, whether it be a positive push in the right direction or encouragement to seek treatment, can result in a better quality of life.

References

Cadman, B. (2018, May 25). Thanatophobia: What to know about death anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321939.php#causes-and-types.

Gbenga. (n.d.). ANXIETY AND FEAR IN RELATION TO DEATH. Retrieved from https://steemit.com/life/@gbenga/anxiety-and-fear-in-relation-to-death.

Hoelterhoff, M., & Chung, M. C. (2013). Death anxiety and well-being; coping with life-threatening events. Traumatology, 19(4), 280–291. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1177/1534765613477499

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

The Story Behind a Mind Wanderer

Everyone’s mind wanders. We tend to stare into space, perhaps awkwardly staring at someone and once we realize it, we look away apologetically. It’s something that happens to everybody, but what if this occurs constantly? Is it purposeful or unintentional? Could we possibly be staring off into the distance to avoid the present situation at hand?

As human beings, we are constantly thinking. For those who suffer from typical anxiety, it is as if the mind does not stop racing. In a way, it can be called a defense mechanism used to avoid feeling the environment they are currently in, thus putting themselves on autopilot. The anxiety can be situational, meaning within the present moment the person feels uncomfortable and the mind does not stop thinking about possible factors that can take place. For example, one that suffers from anxiety may have difficulties walking into a new room with a large number of unknown faces. If and when they do walk into that room, their mind can go a mile a minute thinking, “Is everyone staring at me?”, “Am I overdressed?”, “I should have stayed home.” While trying to remove themselves from the present moment, one can intentionally or unintentionally let their minds wander and think of something else to get through the situation. If it is not situational, these symptoms can be recurring and can happen at any time of the day. Studies show that people who tend to unintentionally let their minds wander off report symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

There is a constant craving for an escape, whether the need to withdraw from the present is intended or not. Those who suffer from anxiety often try to disappear into a fantasy that is unrelated to the task(s) currently at hand. Mind wandering however, can lead to dangerous outcomes. For example, an individual may not be paying attention to the road ahead while driving. In an academic setting teachers may grow frustrated with a child who seems inattentive, dismissing the possibility that they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress. Although mind wandering can act as a protective shield from the emotions of someone who suffers from anxiety, it can have detrimental effects on the individual.

Next time you find yourself or a loved one wandering off into space constantly or they’re on autopilot, try reaching out. What are they trying to protect themselves from? Is it to avoid something in particular? It’s also important to note that if you are trying to calm the mind, it can be helpful to meditate. Meditation can help someone who suffers from anxiety focus on one task at a time and can decrease mind wandering. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of deep breathing and peace. The world can be chaotic, but the mind doesn’t always have to be.

References

Marcusson-Clavertz, D., & Kjell, O. N. E. (2018). Psychometric properties of the Spontaneous and Deliberate Mind Wandering Scales. European Journal of Psychological Assessment. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1027/1015-5759/a000470 (Supplemental)

Free Image on Pixabay – Girl, Blonde, Blond, Looking. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/girl-blonde-blond-looking-window-690297/.

Seli, P., Beaty, R. E., Marty-Dugas, J., & Smilek, D. (2019). Depression, anxiety, and stress and the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 6(2), 163–170. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1037/cns0000182

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Panic Disorder: Is this the End?

Whew! Thank God it’s the weekend, so I can finally relax and have some solitude, Erin thinks as she sits down at her kitchen counter to eat her breakfast. When she takes her first bite, she feels her heart racing. Touching her hand to her chest she looks down in confusion.

Startled, Erin wonders, Why is my heart racing? There’s nothing I have planned to do today, so what’s giving me this surge of nervousness? Her breathing becomes more and more ragged and quickly spirals out of control. Heart pounding out of her chest, Erin leans back into her chair, placing her hands above her head trying to get more air. Am I having a heart attack?! Then she remembers this same feeling that happened not too long ago. No, she is having another panic attack, not even two weeks after the first. Gasping for air, Erin realizes she’s all alone.

Why is nobody here? Dad should’ve been home by now, I need help! A couple of minutes pass with Erin at the counter, still struggling to breathe and frozen in fear. Over the next few weeks, Erin is in constant dread of having another panic attack. She hates the feeling of breathing uncontrollably, which leads to her heart beating so hard it hurts. But, above all, Erin makes sure to stay in public areas or that someone is always home, so she is never alone.

Erin is experiencing panic disorder. Panic disorder is when an individual has had a panic attack and fears having another one for a prolonged period of time. A panic attack is a singular event of intense panic (usually due to stress), resulting in shortness of breath. Though commonly confused with panic attacks, panic disorder is slightly different. The difference is the consistency and length of time living in fear of having another panic attack. Diagnosis of this condition only occurs after a physician has taken a test such as the EKG, and a psychologist performs an evaluation to discuss the individual’s symptoms. This ensures that the proper treatment is given (Mayo Clinic, 2018). A clear sign of panic disorder is if an individual has frequent and unexpected attacks that leave them constantly worried about having another for over a month. It can reach a point where they avoid situations to prevent triggers of an attack.

When the consequences of having another attack lead to significant changes in an individual’s behavior, this is also a sign of panic disorder. If you feel as if you are “losing control”, “having a heart attack” or “going crazy,” these are all criteria of this condition and validate the diagnosis (Mayo Clinic, 2018). In Erin’s case, she fulfilled all of the criteria for panic disorder. Her behavior changed significantly, conforming to the behavior seen in this condition. She experiences a sense of complete lack of control and feelings of having a heart attack. This has led her to behave outside of her norm as a solitary person, to one who now has made it her goal to never be alone. Though Erin has found a viable coping mechanism, this is not the treatment she needs to get back to her norm and improve her quality of life.

Treatment for panic disorder can help reduce both the frequency and intensity in which panic attacks can occur. “The main treatment options are psychotherapy and medications. One or both types of treatment may be recommended, depending on your preference, your history, the severity of your panic disorder” (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Access to therapists that specialize in this condition is also a factor. Psychotherapy, commonly known as talk therapy, is considered a very effective treatment option because it helps to fully understand the condition and cope with it in a healthy manner. Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, helps to learn that the panic symptoms are not dangerous through the individual’s experiences. This is done by gradually recreating symptoms of a panic attack. All symptoms are simulated in a safe environment to ensure treatment is realistic and safe. “Once the physical sensations of panic no longer feel threatening, the attacks begin to resolve” (Mayo Clinic, 2018). The first choice of medication given to individuals with panic disorder is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This is a low-risk antidepressant typically recommended for treating panic attacks. This is a selective serotonin inhibitor that helps by stabilizing levels of serotonin, decreasing the feeling of anxiety or fear (VeryWellMind, 2019).

If you have been struggling with panic attacks or panic disorder, there is a way to get better. With the help of therapy and medication, getting back to the person you once were is achievable. When an individual finds themselves fulfilling the criteria Erin has displayed, they should not lose hope because there are many treatment possibilities. If you are willing to try, these treatments are viable options toward a better quality of life.

References:

 

Mayo Clinic. Panic Attacks and Disorder. Retrieved 15 November, 2019, from, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376027

(n.d.) Retrieved from, https://pixabay.com/photos/fear-anxiety-emotion-worry-scared-2019930/

VeryWellMind. How SSRIs Are Used in the Treatment of Panic Disorder. Retrieved 15 November, 2019, from,

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-are-ssris-used-in-the-treatment-of-panic-disorder-2583979

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Versus Culture

“What’s wrong?”, your mother asks which brings you back to reality. You reply “nothing” as always. Except it isn’t nothing. You need someone to talk to. You feel your anxiety creeping up, trying to consume you whole. Unfortunately, that someone you need cannot be your mother because anxiety does not exist. Not to her, not to your family, not in your culture. You feel as though you are left to suffer alone in silence. Silence, in turn, can negatively influence your development inside and outside the home. It is your anxiety versus your culture.

 Most of us crave parental acceptance more than we are willing to admit. Parental acceptance embraces an expression of warmth. Things such as a hug or merely listening to a child and how they are feeling, can go a long way. If a parent outwardly denies the existence of their child’s anxiety, it makes the child believe their feelings are invalid. Ignoring the problem altogether can potentially inflate it. It can lead to depression, stunt their social and behavioral development, and lead to social anxiety in the future. Often, people who come from such a background tend to not only disregard their feelings of anxiety, but start to develop a habit of disregarding all of their feelings as a whole.

A deeper factor we can explore is why many ethnic cultures do not believe that mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression exist. An individual may find it difficult to tell their mother what is bothering them because her beliefs are so deeply rooted in her culture. In 2010, Harvard Psychiatrists conducted a study in which they investigated whether certain races were more susceptible to symptoms of anxiety than others were. They determined that participants from a Caucasian background were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety than participants of Black or Hispanic origins, even if the symptoms stopped the latter group from going to work or school, or otherwise impacted their daily lives. The researchers realized that cultures may also experience different symptoms of anxiety. Everyone is different and therefore we experience things differently, even if placed in the same environment. As a result, people have different definitions of anxiety. Other factors including socioeconomic status, immigration, and opportunities given can contribute to the reasons why different cultures turn a blind eye to anxiety and its effects. We cannot directly establish that culture is the reason that anxiety is not acknowledged in general within ethnic households, however it does raise a major concern for those who suffer from anxiety in silence. 

We observe that in ethnic communities, words associated with anxiety such as “unsettling nervousness” and “discomfort” are overlooked as an exaggerated feeling. These words and phrases should not be used to undermine the feelings of the person suffering from anxiety. It leads the individual to the conclusion that their parents are right and what they are feeling does not exist. Those suffering from anxiety tend to hide their feelings from their parents because they are afraid of seeming weak in front of the people that raised them and are worried about seeming incapable of handling life’s trials and tribulations. However, these ethnic cultures fail to understand that something miniscule to a grown adult, may feel monumental to the child suffering from anxiety. Consequently, these children feel discouraged about the obstacles at hand.

No one should feel like their emotions are invalid. Our cultural backgrounds should not place limitations on us to the extent where we cannot express our feelings of anxiousness and be comfortable enough to ask for help. The next time a mother asks her child what is wrong, the child should feel confident in saying more than just “nothing.” Finally, the mother should have open ears and arms to whatever the real answer may be because communication is essential to building bridges of support for those that need it, especially individuals as vulnerable as children.

References

Beaton, C. (2017, November 9). Is Anxiety a White-People Thing? Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mb35b8/is-anxiety-a-white-people-thing.

 

Free Image on Pixabay – Love, Loving, Me, Child, Hope. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/love-loving-me-child-hope-prayer-1833160/.

 

Gray, Calonie & Carter, Rona & Silverman, Wendy. (2011). Anxiety Symptoms in African American Children: Relations with Ethnic Pride, Anxiety Sensitivity, and Parenting. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 20. 205-213. 10.1007/s10826-010-9422-3.

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

Illness Anxiety Disorder: What If?

You are sitting down in your art history class and everything is as it always is. The professor is greeting the class and all the students, including you, look bored as usual. Staring down at the desk, you see an ant crawling across it. As you swipe your hand to brush it off the desk,, the ant bites you. Throughout the lecture, you cannot get the idea of the ant still crawling on you off of your mind. The mere thought of the ant still being alive and able to bite you again is bothering you in such a way that you cannot focus on the professor anymore. Knowing the bite is not poisonous, you redouble your efforts to focus and listen to the lecture. You look around on the top and bottom of the desks, as well as the seats next to you. You don’t see the ant, but you are afraid now that the damage has already been done. You feel the bite might be getting worse and wonder if the ant was poisonous. What if it starts to swell? What if it becomes infected? What if the infection spreads and you lose your hand?! Not able to take the intruding thoughts anymore, you rush to the bathroom to check and see exactly how your finger is after the bite.

This student is experiencing Illness Anxiety Disorder. Another, more commonly known name for this disorder, is Hypochondriasis (Mayo Clinic, 2018). This disorder, though it’s own entity, is heightened if you are experiencing or have had Somatic Symptoms Disorder (SSD), or disorders similar to SSD. “Illness Anxiety Disorder is when a person becomes preoccupied with having an illness or getting an illness, constantly thinking about their health.” They may continuously check for signs of illness and take extreme measures of precaution in order to prevent further risk(s). Hypochondriasis primarily distinguishes itself from SSD when the person is not experiencing symptoms such as excessive pain (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). “Physical symptoms are not present or if present, only mild. If another illness is present, or there is a high risk for developing an illness, the person’s concern is out of proportion” (Cleveland Clinic, 2015). Although IAD and SSD are two separate disorders, they are similar in their treatment processes. The similarity of these treatment plans is extremely convenient, because if you are treating one, then you are also partially treating the other, which is significant when one individual has both disorders. Additionally, understanding the steps necessary to find a solution for one disorder can make resolving the other disorder less intimidating. Having a basis from which to start can make all the difference and lead to a quicker return to one’s norm. 

Treatment of Illness Anxiety Disorder is very similar to SSD and can be comorbid with SSD. This is common between co-occurring disorders. Making an appointment with one’s primary care doctor is a great way to start. Go to regular check-ups, and for further assistance, find a trustworthy counselor to confide in. A reliable counselor will not only validate one’s feelings, but also disprove any worries at the same time. Resolving these constant and extreme fear of threats drastically improves an individual’s functionality and betters their quality of life. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

 

References

 

American Psychiatric Association. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from, 

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/somatic-symptom-disorder/what-is-somatic-symptom-disorder 

 

Cleveland Clinic. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from,

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9886-illness-anxiety-disorder-beyond-hypochondriasis 

Mayo Clinic. Hypochondriasis. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from,

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/illness-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20373782 

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/depression-anxiety-stress-depressed-3912748/

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Can I Take a Step Outside?

Imagine feeling overwhelmed at your desk: hands shaking, heart pounding, adrenaline racing through your veins. You feel dazed. Your anxiety spikes, but you can’t leave because you have a job to do. Which do you prioritize: your mental health or the bills that are due soon? 

 

In recent decades, anxiety has been a growing problem in the United States specifically in the workplace. Research has found that 40% of Americans reported feeling anxious during their workday, and 72% of Americans experience constant anxiety that interferes with their productivity, as well as their personal lives. It’s important to note that a certain level of anxiety in the workplace can promote efficiency. For example, the excitement to present a new project or the drive to reach specific goals can be positive forms of stress. However, anxiety becomes a problem when the excitement factor is not there because this triggers the fight or flight instinct that tells our bodies to flee from danger or to stay and challenge the obstacle at hand. This response becomes problematic when we are not able to regulate it; when we are not able to determine the appropriate level of anxiety, positive or negative, we are conflicted on whether to fight or flight. The negative effects of workplace anxiety can inhibit one from performing at their true capacity, therefore limiting an individual from their true potential.

 

Someone suffering from workplace anxiety is constantly looking for a threat to appear (Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey, n.d.). In return, they are constantly distracted and cannot focus directly on the tasks at hand. The anxiety can stem from negative experiences at the workplace, poor management, or simply because an individual can be their own biggest critic. So, why do these individuals continue to suffer in silence most of the time? As if the work-induced anxiety was not already enough to deal with, there is also the fear of appearing weak in front of others. Due to pride, individuals with workplace anxiety will not admit to struggling with the tasks at hand. This is especially true when promotions are involved; they have a need to feel indestructible and able to handle any obstacle that comes their way because promotions inevitably come with more responsibility and stress.

 

Along with almost everything else in life, women and men have different ways of coping with workplace anxiety and stress. Women are more likely than men to eat more (46 percent vs. 27 percent) and speak with family and friends (44 percent vs. 21 percent) about the difficulties that they are having. Men are more likely to cope with their workplace anxiety and stress by having more sexual intercourse (19 percent vs. 10 percent) and using illicit drugs (12 percent vs. 2 percent). Other ways to cope with work-related anxiety that both men and women partake in include increasing their daily dose of caffeine, over-the-counter medication, smoking, drinking, and exercising. 

 

Both employers and employees should encourage people to feel safe when discussing their stressors, in order to reduce work-related anxiety. There are a multitude of ways to significantly reduce this situational anxiety. One action authoritative figures can take is to establish a safe space and clearcut policies to ensure privacy and security for employees. The feeling of a safe environment will decrease workplace anxiety for employees, as they will be able to communicate effectively about their stress while also reaching their job performance goals. Every individual should have support from their coworkers, helping them against workplace anxiety. They deserve to know their work efforts are appreciated. They deserve to know they are valued in their workplace. 

 

References

Cheng, B. H., & McCarthy, J. M. (2018). Understanding the dark and bright sides of anxiety: A 

theory of workplace anxiety. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(5), 537–560. 

https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1037/apl0000266

Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved from 

https://adaa.org/workplace-stress-anxiety-disorders-survey

Pyc, L. S., Meltzer, D. P., & Liu, C. (2017). Ineffective leadership and employees’ negative 

outcomes: The mediating effect of anxiety and depression. International Journal of Stress 

Management, 24(2), 

196–215.https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1037/str0000030

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Mental Health Month: Stress and Anxiety in America

Recently, a company call Gallup completed their annual World Emotions Report. Conducting over 151,000 interviews with people all around the globe, the company complied reports of various experiences and emotions to provide a picture of the world’s emotional health. When we look at the American data, not a lot of it is encouraging.

 

Compared to past years, Americans are more stressed than ever. 45% of adults reported feeling stressed and worried the day before the interview. That is almost half of all of the Americans that were interviewed, and 22% higher than the global average. This is particularly significant in the young adult and the working generation. About 65% of Americans aged 19 to 49 expressed feeling stressed. In addition, the youngest Americans are angry. About 32% of young adults reported feeling angry or riled up the day before.

 

Considering the status of performance culture in American society, massive reports of stress and anger may not be uncalled for. A lot of adult stress in America has been attributed to a change in leadership or an unpleasant boss. As we approach an economic recession, pressure from the workplace combined with uncertainty for the future occupy the working class’ minds. A lot of Americans come home feeling not only worn from their day of work, but they are also fearful that one wrong move may deprive them of life in the cubicles.

 

The workplace isn’t the only thing people are stressed. Recent reports from the American Psychological Association reported that 62% of Americans feel that the current political climate is a significant stressor. That translates to about 6 in every 10 American. More significantly, 69% of Americans are stressed about the country’s future.

 

Although we might not be able to change what is stressing us out, we can take a step back for ourselves. May is mental health month, and it is time to be introspective about our mental health. Stress is something universal, and a part of living. If you feel overwhelmed, here are some ideas for destressing:

 

  • Volunteer your time: The good thing about the toil in our country is that people are willing to do something about it. According to the American Psychological Association, the country’s future has encouraged 45% of Americans to feel more compelled to volunteer and support a cause. If you like to put thoughts into actions, volunteering at a local organization and finding ways to supporting a cause you believe in could be the right way to kick off May.
  • Be realistic: If you feel overwhelmed, chances are you are taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. These responsibilities might be important to you, but it is okay to recognize that you’re tired and ask for help. It’s okay to say no to new activities because you need to take time for yourself. If anyone asks why to share why you are making new changes. Look at your schedule and ask yourself: What is absolutely necessary? What isn’t? And How can I make this day better?
  • Do something you like: It is no secret that doing something you enjoy can make you feel infinitely better. While mediation and mindfulness is a favorite amongst de-stressor activities, it doesn’t have to work for everybody. Singing your favorite song, picking up an old or new hobby, and spending time with good company can all be great de-stressors to feel a little more like yourself. Keep in mind that there’s more than one thing that works, and exploring all your options can be liberating and fun.
  • Talk and listen: When you feel your stress hit an all-time high and your mood hit an all-time low, good social support can be crucial to getting you back on track again. Even on a good day, happy ones, the sharing it with another person can make the joy so much sweeter. Connect with good friends and family, and reach out to them if you’d like. Although, if there are things that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with close ones, you can search for good counselors and therapist. They tend to be good listeners, and many charges on a sliding scale based on your income. Nowadays, you can even reach out to counselors online or on your phone. If you are a college student, your school may even offer counseling appointments and after-hours phone lines. Many organizations even offer phone lines and text lines.
  • Lastly, a lot of us are scared of the future and stressed about things that we can’t necessarily control. And while the answers to your problems may be complex and require extreme effort to reform, it is important to understand what you can do now and focus on that. Because if you get through today, you can see tomorrow.

 

References

Fitness 4Mind4Body: Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/fitness-4mind4body-stress

Gallup 2019 global emotions report. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/analytics/248906/gallup-global-emotions-report-2019.aspx

Igarashi, H., Levenson, M. R., & Aldwin, C. M. (2018). The development of wisdom: A social-ecological approach. The Journals of Gerontology, 73(8). Retrieved from Oxford Academic database.

October 30, 2018 APA stress in America™ survey: Generation Z stressed about issues in the news but least likely to vote. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/10/generation-z-stressed

U.S. leads in the worldwide anxiety epidemic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shouldstorm/201904/us-leads-in-the-worldwide-anxiety-epidemic

 

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Away From Your Desk: American Work Culture and Work Seperation Anxiety

Who doesn’t love a good vacation? Whether you love your job or hate it, promises of relaxation or adventure is irresistible. As modern Americans, we often pride ourselves in working hard and playing hard. There is nothing better than refreshing yourself after another a good day of work. However, most adults spend the majority of their days at their occupation out of necessity. As a study has shown, that may be breeding something else in us. We joke about being married to our work, but is there more reality to it than we expected?  After some research, it seems that the anxiety to miss work may be more common than most think. Although most company offerings paid vacation days, many Americans choose to remain on the clock. There’s nothing wrong with loving your job, but are we staying in the cubicle out of necessity, or are we addicted to work?

According to TSheets, an employee survey company, a lot of Americans aren’t taking advantage of their precious day offs. In a survey conducted in March 2018, only 35% of employees choose to use up all their paid days off. Most employees only took a fraction of the day off and some took none at all. When asked why almost every 1 in 3 participants (32%) expressed that they felt pressured to not take any day offs. In certain company cultures, employees are pressured to work without taking their paid days off, because of guilt and fear of falling behind their colleagues. Some participants reported that they felt uncomfortable even asking to take days off. This completive company culture encourages maximum efficiency, but at the expense of their employees. According to TSheets, 43% of participants feel are often and always stressed. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but it can be argued that there is something toxic in a company that can’t see the benefit in healthy, well-adjusted employees. They know that their employees are people and not robots, right?

Thankfully, there are people that aren’t afraid of utilizing their days off. However, not all of them are using it to get some rest. Of the people who took some paid days off, 60% of them reported doing work while on vacation. 24% of them work while they were on sick leave. Imagine your average 9 to 5, but your body is against you. You’re at home, stewing in a bed of tissues. It doesn’t feel a vacation. Some of us know these feelings all too well, but some simply choose not to. 89% of employees said that they choose to come in sick for work instead of wasting their vacation days. We’ve all come to work or school with some sniffles, but this practice is prevalent in all the wrong places. In the healthcare field, 15% of employees admitted to coming to work sick at least once a week. 32% of people in the service field do not receive paid day offs at all. These are the fields where direct contact with other people and the spreading germs is almost unavoidable. You might think that this issue is specific to demanding career fields, but you’d wrong. Overall occupations, 19% of employees choose to work sick at more than once a month. That is almost 1 in every 5 people, and they are the prime example of what becomes of the companies that motivate their people the wrong way.

Of the people that choose to take a fraction or none of their days of, only 43% are able to carry their vacation time over to the next year, preparing for the vacation of their lifetime. Others are a little more money orientated. In fact, when asked if they’d prefer more vacation time or more money, 74% of employees would rather have more cash in their pockets. 32% of participants gave up their vacation days for an annual bonus, whether or not their company allows them to allocate their lost time to next year’s paid vacation days. However, 24% didn’t use all their days even though company policy doesn’t allow carryovers. You might think that these employees simply enjoy their jobs a bit too much, and you might be right. When a society promotes working hard with guilt trips and monetary incentives, it is hard to say no. Over time, this enthusiasm might lead to something else. When Dr. Suzanne Degges-White wrote about the TSheets study, she made a connection when her friend shared worries about her husband who was loving his work dangerously. Her husband was not so much a typical workaholic, but his mind was absolutely consumed with work. He thought about his work incessantly and these thoughts manifested in illusions of failure and disaster in his company if he wasn’t there to keep everything running smoothly. His worst fears were only over when he was at work, and it came back to him in waves of angst and agitation when the work-day was over.

As Dr. Deggs-White listened, she recognized many symptoms of separation anxiety disorder in this poor man’s behavior. Like the overwhelming fear children experience while away from their parents, her friend’s husband was experiencing withdraw from missing work. In her own words, Dr. Deggs-White determined that work separation anxiety “affects individuals who feel the need to ensure that everything happens just as it should on the job—even when it’s not necessarily their responsibility or when they are not even literally ‘on’ the job”(Deggs-White). This disorder may not only have its roots in how society generates productivity from their employees but also how society impacts the way we thought about our future. Even from a young age, we are eagerly looking for our place in the working world. Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, and they will tell you their favorite job. Even as children, we understood the value society places on occupations and their importance in a functioning society. Over time, we seek to enter society by “becoming” our job title. We are a teacher. We are an office worker. We are what we do for a living. Under the company pressure to not only do well but to exceed your colleagues and to be ashamed when you do not, these expectations accelerate how deeply we perceive ourselves as our career. Work separation anxiety agonizes those who rely upon too much of their existence in the success and role of their career. When people like Dr.Degg-White’s friend’s spouse sees his place in the world as his job, to be away from from the office would be a total disconnect to his sense of self. Like a child without their guardian, people with work separation anxiety are lost outside their workplace. Although there is no official cure for work separation anxiety, there is hope. Just as society has conditioned workers to marry their work, there is a way to undo the vow. Counselors and other mental health professionals can help people regain a sense of self outside of the corporate world. By realizing that there is more to ourselves than our work, we can finally be ready to determine our own deservings and happiness.

References:

Degges-White, S. (2018, July 3). Work separation anxiety: More than a sense of responsibility. Retrieved from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201807/work-separation-anxiety-more-sense-responsibility

How much PTO should I give my employees. (n.d.). Retrieved from TSheet website: https://www.tsheets.com/resources/pto-survey

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Pushing the Limits of Differentiation: Hypochondria or OCD?

Suzan is sick. She knows she’s sick. When she goes to the doctor searching for answers, however, she is told that she is fine. Suzan doesn’t believe it though, and she takes note of the different physical sensations that feel wrong. She thinks she knows better. However, Suzan suffers from hypochondria.

Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that revolves around one’s health. This health anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are quite similar: they share various qualities and so it is easy to confuse the two. For example, both involve obsessive behaviors. Individuals suffering from both OCD and hypochondria have similar ways of coping, which include compulsions and rituals. For example, individuals diagnosed with these anxiety disorders tend to have, “a sense of uncertainty or incompleteness that needs to be righted in some way… [resulting in] compulsive or avoidant behavior” (Weg, 2010). In addition, both disorders are rooted in an intense fear of sickness and disease. Overall, the irrationality presented in these disorders makes it difficult for the person to recognize at first, and unfortunately, this unawareness of perceptual change can affects relationships within their lives, as well as their ability to maintain a job in the workforce.

Despite their overwhelming similarities, there are a couple of distinctions between hypochondria and OCD. A subtle, but significant, “difference between health anxiety and OCD, however, is that hypochondriacs fear having a disease while people with OCD fear getting a disease” (Hochman, 2016). People with OCD would engage in more preventative behaviors, as opposed to those with hypochondria. On the other hand, “people with hypochondriasis are often preoccupied or even consumed with bodily symptoms that can be quite vague, like ‘my heart is tired,’ or very specific, such as ‘my throat is always sore.’ People with OCD are generally less preoccupied with physical sensations” (Kelly, 2017).

These differences are very important in understanding these disorders, especially regarding future treatment; however, there are a handful of faulty distinctions between the two that can be rather misleading. For example, it is noted that “people with OCD have obsessions that relate to a variety of themes, such as contamination, sexuality, religion, personal harm, or morals. In contrast, people with hypochondriasis have obsession-like concerns primarily related to their health” (Kelly). However, this statement is misleading because OCD has various subsets and although it is possible for an individual to experience multiple themes of OCD, it is not necessarily true. In other words, someone could have OCD that revolves solely around health issues. In addition, it is mentioned that “people with hypochondriasis often have difficulty accepting that their problems are anything but physical” thereby making them feel like they need only to seek medical treatment rather than psychiatric or psychological assistance. In general, people with hypochondriasis have less awareness or insight as to the irrationality of their fears than people with OCD (Kelly, 2017).

The type of help an individual pursues is dependent on him/herself because individuals that meet the diagnosis requirements for hypochondriasis rarely recognize the obsessive nature of their irrational behavior. Additionally, such individuals may fail to realize that their behaviors are rooted in deep fears that should be addressed by a counselor or psychologist. On the other hand, individuals with OCD tend to be more aware of their symptoms. However, a participant of an online forum wrote, “it took 22 years to find out that I was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. It was spotted by a volunteer Christian counselor. She referred me to some websites, so I looked at them with my husband. I sat there and sobbed tears of relief as I read about myself” (Pamela, 2008). This quote helps to reveal that it can also be difficult to recognize irrational behaviors in cases of OCD just as in cases of hypochondriasis. Overall, mental disorders can overlap in many ways, but understanding the distinction between these disorders can be especially helpful to individuals that are diagnosed with them.

References

Kelly, O. (n.d.). Being a Hypochondriac and Having OCD Are Not the Same Thing. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/am-i-a-hypochondriac-2510488 

Harrington, P. (2008). Obsessive compulsive disorder with associated hypochondriasis. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/336/7652/1070

Hochman, J. (n.d.). Hypochondriasis. Retrieved from http://www.ocdhope.com/hypochondriasis/

Weg, A. H. (n.d.). The Many Flavors of OCD. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-ocd/201107/the-many-flavors-ocd