#AskingforaFriend: Anxiety disorder
By Nate Bowman
GCU Office of Student Care
Worried, afraid, anxious, nervous, stressed — I hear my friends use these words a lot. From time to time, I find myself using them, too. Does this mean we should all be diagnosed with anxiety?
Mental health professionals use a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose mental disorders. Because no two people are the same, it is important to note that there is some degree of flexibility concerning the diagnoses listed in the DSM. Please consult a mental health professional to best assist you with your mental health needs.
According to the DSM, “Anxiety disorders include disorders that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances” (APA, 2013, p. 189). It goes on to differentiate fear from anxiety noting, “Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat” (APA, 2013, p. 189).
Many, if not all, of us are familiar with those five adjectives in the opening sentence; however, that does not necessarily mean we have an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety can be useful and nondisordered.
For example, have you ever taken a big test, interviewed for a job or gone on a first date? These scenarios, and many others like them, can induce a wide range of feelings, and it’s not uncommon for anxiety to make an appearance. Who knows, it may even take center stage.
Perhaps you made use of that anxiety by dedicating some time to preparation. You might have chosen to study your notes, research common interview questions, or purchase a new outfit. This made your anxiety go away completely, right? Of course not! But you used anxiety to adapt and perform constructive actions.
Anxiety starts to become problematic when it becomes excessive and persistent. I have yet to meet someone who can worry their way into controlling the grade their professor gives them, making a company hire them, or guaranteeing their date will like them and agree to go out a second time.
Furthermore, the words excessive and persistent differentiate nondisordered anxiety and anxiety disorders. The word excessive denotes significant distress that impairs one’s ability to function (socially, academically, occupationally, etc.), while the word persistent means lasting longer than what is developmentally appropriate (e.g. 6 or more months for most adults). Unlike nondisordered anxiety, which is momentary and often induced by stimuli (test, interview, date), anxiety disorders persist even in the absence of stimuli.
Avoidance and escape are also common among anxiety disorders; they serve as coping strategies, albeit maladaptive ones. For example, if I never put myself in an anxiety-provoking situation, I’ll never experience anxiety, right? This seemingly logical approach actually gives anxiety more power over a person and can lead them to avoid people, places and things that are important to them.
So the next time you or someone you know uses words like worried, afraid, anxious, nervous or stressed, remember that it’s perfectly normal and OK to experience these feelings to a certain extent. If you suspect you are struggling with a mental health problem, please consult a mental health professional to best assist you.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.