During the course of your battle with kidney disease, you have most likely read or heard about the risks of dealing with depression, which is of course a very significant mental health issue. However, while a great deal of focus is put on depression, we as medical professionals often fail to educate you about the perils and risks of dealing with anxiety. The prevalence of anxiety disorders in the United States is about 18-22% annually (more than double the rate of depression), making these conditions the most common of all mental health disorders.
Most everyone has experienced a normal course of anxiety and/or fear during their lives. Perhaps it is a fleeting feeling associated with a specific event, such as giving a talk in public, making a difficult decision, or boarding an airplane. Once the talk that was making you nervous is over, the hard decision is made, or your flight ends, your mood returns to your normal state. However, when your anxiety begins to last and interfere with day-to-day functioning, for example making it difficult for you to complete your dialysis treatment, then it is time to take a closer look at what is going on.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
While there are many types of anxiety disorders, two common types are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder. GAD is characterized by an often constant feeling of anxiety that is perhaps best described as not severe, but always present. Most individuals who suffer from GAD are able to recognize that the fears they are experiencing, such as worries about becoming homeless or losing their family, are often unfounded, yet the concerns and fears they have over these issues feel very real.
Individuals who suffer from GAD often are easily startled, feel “ramped up,” have a difficult time relaxing, experience troubles with sleep (anxiety can be exacerbated when you have lots of down time to focus in and ruminate on your fears), and have a hard time concentrating. Many people who have anxiety disorders also have physical symptoms such as feeling tired or fatigued, headaches and body aches, hot flashes, trembling, and rapid breathing. The irony of anxiety disorders is that the things the individual fears, in the vast majority of instances, will never come true, yet the associated anxiety they are experiencing is profound.
Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks, unlike GAD, often occur unexpectedly and may not be related to any specific incident. Symptoms of a panic attack include a rapid onset of fear and nervousness that is in complete disproportion to the reality of one’s circumstances. During a panic attack, a person might experience a racing heart, rapid and shallow breathing, a sense of imminent danger or death, dizziness, trembling, nausea, and an overwhelming sense that they have completely lost control of their situation. Individuals who have had recurrent panic attacks often develop a constant fear about when the next panic attack is going to occur.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
At this time, we don’t know for certain what causes anxiety disorders. Most likely a combination of family history, brain functioning, life stressors, substance abuse, and sometimes prescription medications interact to cause the anxiety or panic.
What Can You Do?
There is a great deal that can be done to help you cope with an anxiety disorder. Therefore, you should alert a medical or mental health professional if you are dealing with anxiety and/or panic. You might be embarrassed to speak to someone, because you believe that you should just be able to get over your condition, but that is not helpful to you. There are interventions that can help with anxiety, including medications, individual counseling (especially cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness work), and relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep-breathing.
Anxiety disorders are very real. When left unaddressed they cause untold suffering and pain. Anxiety disorders are very treatable. The sooner you take action and learn ways to deal with your anxiety, the sooner you will be able to gain and use skills that can lessen its impact!
Mark Meier is a clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working with those who have dealt with depression and anxiety related issues.