“Black people don’t get anxiety. That’s a white folks thing.” This was a common myth I heard from my friends, family, and community growing up. I believed that myth full-heartedly until I realized my life was being controlled by generalized anxiety.
Now that I am fully aware of what anxiety is, I can pinpoint my first memory of it. It was a weird day as I usually rode the bus home to my small home town, but on this day, I was instructed by my teacher that I was going to be riding the bus to my Big Mama’s (grandmother) house.
My mother met me at the bus stop, kneeled on one knee, hugged me, and told me that she and my dad were no longer going to be together and that he would no longer be living with us. My little heart started to race, and tears began to pour from my eyes. I felt like my life was doomed and worried about what I did to cause this catastrophe.
From that point, my life was ruled by generalized anxiety, but I did not know what it was, so I did not know how to control it. Why? Because “Black Folks did not get anxiety.”
Anxiety does not pick and choose who it wants. It is not racist. It doesn’t care how old you are. It is a very common mental health issue, but you need to know what type of anxiety you are dealing with before you can learn effective ways to manage your anxiety.
The kind of anxiety discussions you will find here at Serene Black Queen is related to Generalized Anxiety.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is a mental condition defined by the constant and irrational fear of everyday life situations.
People with GAD express constant worry about every aspect of their lives, including money, health, family, and work. They also experience what is known as anticipatory fear, which makes them anticipate a disaster at all times.
The best analogy to describe how people with GAD feel is by imagining yourself on a rollercoaster; once the vehicle approaches the highest point of the track, it starts slowing down, and you get this overwhelming feeling of fear of what’s about to come.
This is a nutshell is how GAD feels; how this differs from typical anxiety is the fear is almost always present, and the feeling doesn’t go away.
Epidemiology of GAD
The prevalence of GAD compared to other mental conditions is quite high; in fact, estimates state that the lifetime prevalence is 5%, and the 1-year incidence is 3% in the US.
About two-thirds of these patients are women, especially during pregnancy.
Moreover, the numbers decrease in patients over the age of 65.
Prevalence of GAD in Black Women
In a study conducted by the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), 3277 African-American and Black Caribbean women were interviewed to establish the prevalence of mental disorders in black women.
The lifetime prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder was around 5.5%, which is slightly higher than the general population.
There is a strong belief that the numbers are higher than the reports say and that black women tend to avoid seeing a doctor, leading to the underdiagnosis of GAD in this particular population.
The Stigma Faced by Black Women Regarding GAD
Let’s face it; a mental disorder is viewed differently depending on your gender, race, and sexuality. While it’s true that we have made progress in changing the stigmas about how we see other people with mental diseases, it is still not enough, and more work needs to be done.
As Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett words it, “Research and history tell us that three basic images exist-the Strong Black Woman, the Angry Black Woman, and the Jezebel/Video Vixen. These images affect how other people see Black women and how they see themselves. They also play a role in the development and maintenance of anxiety.”
The strong black woman would never complain about herself or her health, and she just keeps doing what needs to be done.
The angry black woman expresses her anxiety by always lashing out on others.
The Jezebel/Video, which represents the sexualized black woman, cannot complain about “this stuff.”
These images may be a contributing factor to why black women are suffering from mental diseases in silence.
What Are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Extreme and persistent fear from everything, including people, animals, objects, etc.
- Trembling while crying when the fear kicks in.
- Social isolation and avoiding interaction with other people.
- Realizing that this fear is irrational, yet not being able to control it.
- Decreased self-esteem, self-confidence, and feeling useless.
- Rapid heart-beat.
- Fast breathing (hyperventilation)
- Profuse sweating
- Loss of consciousness
Now that we got the textbook symptoms out of the way, I want to go a bit deeper and share some additional symptoms I have experienced while dealing with anxiety. Perhaps it will be something you can relate to a bit more.
- Lip Biting
- Pulling out eyelashes
- Pulling out some of the hairs on my head
- Nail Biting
- Stomach pains followed by diarrhea
- Counting (stairs and other random items)
- Knee shaking
- Tapping of fingers and other items
- Irritability/Attitude/” popping off”
- Constantly rechecking things and situation (doors, ovens, purse & bags, etc.)
- Constantly pushing people away because of fear of being hurt
- Not getting close to anyone because of fear of losing them
- Mind goes blank
- Hand trembles
- Fear of failure
Note: The frequency and severity of these symptoms vary significantly from one patient to another.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety?
The exact reason that some people can handle a lot of pressure and don’t develop any mental issues while others do is still unclear, and more research is being conducted.
Nevertheless, there are some risk factors for developing GAD; these include:
A family history
Having a close relative previously diagnosed with GAD increases your chances of developing this condition in the future.
This is true for all other mental conditions.
Being constantly in stressful situations
Prolonged mental stress can be a trigger of GAD; whether it’s at home, work, or community, chronic stress is an important risk factor of GAD.
The workplace is one of the most toxic environments that increases your risk of developing many mental disorders such as depression, GAD, and panic disorder.
This is especially true if you are a black woman. You see, oftentimes, black women who work in large companies find themselves outnumbered by other races.
Therefore, and under the influence of society, these women start to believe that they should work twice as hard and be better than everyone else to prove their worth. Additionally, they think that they are watched closely, and any mistake could be their last.
These factors may trigger the development of GAD in black women, especially if the workplace is toxic.
Excessive use of stimulants
Substances like coffee and energy drinks have been shown to worsen the symptoms of GAD and other anxiety disorders.
Being physically or emotionally abused as a child might put you at a constant state of alertness and fear, and while your fear was legitimate at the beginning; as you grow, this fear spreads more and covers larger aspects of your life, turning eventually to GAD.
How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?
To diagnose GAD, your doctor will ask you many questions regarding your symptoms, how they started, when do they occur, and their severity.
Additionally, the doctor will try to identify the causes and risk factors for your GAD, so you can create a management plan on how to eliminate those triggers.
Note: Your doctor can not help you if you do not share with him/her the issues you have been experiencing. Open up and talk. You will be surprised that this will not surprise your doctor as GAD is more common than you think.
The only reference to diagnose GAD is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders or DSM-V. This book is the reference textbook created by the American Psychiatric Association.
The diagnosis of GAD requires meeting some criteria set by the DSM-V.
How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?
CBT is used to treat a wide range of psychiatric disorders and has been shown to give excellent results for patients.
The idea is to sit with your counselor and discuss how you feel when your symptoms being. Your psychologist or psychiatrist will then provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to change the way you see your GAD, as well as the triggering factors.
With subsequent sessions, you will learn new perspectives on what you thought was a terrifying idea. You will also learn to see the positive aspects revolving around your condition.
The good news is that you can do cognitive behavioral therapy from the comfort of your house by using online services such as Talkspace, which connects you with certified psychologists that are trained for this kind of therapy.
CBT has worked wonders in my life. I will tell anyone in a heartbeat to take as many sessions as it takes you to reach your goals. For your information, NO, it does not mean you are crazy or weak if you choose to see a therapist. As a matter of fact, it takes a strong person to take this big step.
The pharmacological treatment of GAD involves the prescription of two types of drugs; the first type is meant to be used when the patient experiences acute symptoms of GAD, and the second type is used as long-term management of this condition.
Medications used to treat acute episodes of GAD are known as anxiolytics and include:
The second class of drugs is the antidepressant family, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs are a relatively new class with minimum adverse effects that can be prescribed to treat depression, panic disorder, and specific phobias (e.g., Aquaphobia, Arachnophobia, etc.).
Drugs to help manage anxiety might not be for everyone, or it may take trying different ones to find what is best for you. It took me about four medications to find the one that truly helped me. Your doctor, with your feedback, will decide which medicine is best for your situation and for how long you will need to take it.
Many women worry that once you start a medication for anxiety, you will be on it for the rest of your life. To ease your mind, as of today, I do not take any medication to manage anxiety as I have learned many other healthy and productive ways to manage my anxiety.
Implementing relaxation methods (yoga, meditation, music, etc.) into your everyday routine can help calm you down and decrease your symptoms.
Final Thoughts on Generalized Anxiety
Dealing with GAD can be devastating; I mean, just imagine being scared of everything with no apparent reason. The idea itself is terrifying!
However, this doesn’t mean that there is not hope. On the contrary, getting the proper management from a trained healthcare professional can decrease your symptoms significantly, and might even cure your condition once and for all.
In the end, we should all be aware of the importance of mental disorders and pay close attention to ourselves (and our loved ones), to ensure you get the help you need immediately.