Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anxiety: Mental Illness v. Emotional Disorder

So, I’m really enjoying this book, From Panic to Power, by Luncinda Bassett. I’ve read two more chapters since I last posted and am starting to get to the meat of her approach.

First, she believes that anxiety is composed of four factors:

  1. Genetics:

Others in your immediate or extended family also suffer from anxiety or depression.

(True for me. The Beast takes anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds).

  1. Environment:

This goes back to childhood, whether you were a part of a dysfunctional family; expected to be perfect; had strict religious beliefs; or separated from a significant person in your life.

(As much as I hate to admit it, my family was dysfunctional. There was a lot of yelling in the house, and everyone always had to be busy. I was driven to perfection in everything, school, sports etc., and while we didn’t have strict religious beliefs, I felt the burden of trying to project the image of a nice catholic girl. Of course, there’s the issue of my Dad, I don’t know if that counts as separation, since I never knew him).

  1. Biochemistry:

People with anxiety disorder are widely believed to have excessive catecholamine activity, which means they are prone to feelings of hypersensitivity and nervousness.

(I’m not a scientist, but I feel like my panic attacks send me into bouts of hypersensitivity, where every noise or touch is multiplied by thousands).

  1. Personality Traits:

Anxious people can often identify with these traits:
Analytical worriers;
Dwell on things and obsessing about fears;
Feel strongly about things being or happening in a certain ways;
High expectations, which result in disappointment and anxiety;
Strongly desire approval of others;
Must appear in control;
Thought process ruled by anticipation and dread;
Overreact to smallest threat of challenge.

(I’m definitely a worrier. Dwelling on things is my hobby. I often hold myself and those around me to unattainable expectations. Approval of others is very important, which is why I think I have that fear of speaking in groups).

What’s interesting and different about Luncida Bassett’s approach, is she believes that the anxious person’s personality traits and style of thinking causes the biochemical element of anxiety; not the other way around. While she still believes that the mind’s chemical make-up must be changed, she explains that it can be done by examining personality traits and changing them. “When you change the way you think, you change the way you respond and react. As a result, you change the biochemical reaction which will minimize and eventually prevent the anxiety.”

This reminds me of an article that I read a couple weeks ago about the nocebo effect. It explores the results of several studies, one involving Australian athletes who believe they are taking and participating in a study on steroids. Little do they know, half of them are taking a placebo. What the study shows, is that the group taking the placebo developed the same negative side effects of those actually taking the drug, including acne and extreme anger. Several other studies analyzed in the article obtain the same results: that if you truly believe it, your brain will make it happen.

That is why anxiety disorder is categorized as an emotional disorder and not a mental illness. Because anxiety is an emotion, experienced by all people, the varying degrees at which it’s experienced is what turns it into a disorder. And while it can be treated and controlled with medication, positive thinking can be just as powerful.

5 comments:

CffShpGrl said...

wow we have another thing in common. Outside stimuli affects me when i am anxious. Everything sounds and feels 10 times greater than what it is. I hate that.

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Anonymous said...

Control your mind, don't let your mind control you. I think that it is that way in most cases. Your brain controls everything everything. I like this. This makes sense to me. Then again, I'm not a scientist so...