Does anxiety disorder need a new name?

A rose by any other name would certainly smell as sweet (to quote old Will Shakespeare) but would anxiety disorder by another name make it easier to understand by the people in the suffering person’s life? ...

Experience suggests to me that this name makes the condition hard to understand for those who haven’t suffered from it.

 I’ve seen blank or puzzled faces when trying to explain to someone that their partner is experiencing anxiety disorder.  The question almost always asked is, “well, everything is good in our lives right now, so why are they feeling anxious about it?” The main point that I always have to explain is that by the time a person is suffering from anxiety disorder, the feelings of anxiety are no longer something the person can control. 

Their physiology is dramatically out of balance and is creating these feelings pretty much regardless of what they are thinking. 

Of course, any worrying thought can immediately send a bolt of anxiety through the nervous system like a lightning flash once the disorder has set in. It’s entirely possible though to not be mentally anxious about anything but to still have intense feelings of dread or even terror constantly in your body.  In fact the symptoms very typically arrive after a period of stress when the person is (or was) feeling calm again. Interestingly, it’s common not to feel anxious about anything any more – other than the horrible symptoms that have developed!

So this is where it would be so much more helpful if the disorder was called something like “adrenal syndrome”… because fundamentally it’s the over-reactivity of the adrenals that is causing the problem.

What happens is this: because of prolonged (and sometimes acute) stress, the adrenals (in the body’s wisdom) increase in size in order to cope with the demand for stress hormones (primarily adrenalin and cortisol).  At the same time, constant body tension produced by stress, together with anxious and worrying thoughts, act as a signal to the brain to keep the production of these hormones in place. The brain is protecting itself from what seems to be imminent danger. When the stressful period is over, it can take quite some time for the brain to allow the red alert situation to stand down. The adrenals have enlarged, so they are incredibly reactive.  And so the scene is set for the body to continue to be flooded with stress hormones even when the stress has ended. This is all just exacerbated by the bewilderment and fear you feel when your body is creating these horrible sensations that seem to be out of your control. And so the vicious cycle begins.

How much easier this would be for everyone to understand if anxiety disorder had a different name!?