anxiety in disabled people by Rob Akins edited by Jenna Breunig

Anxiety in Disabled People

Disabled people are more likely to have anxiety disorders. Disability discrimination and social isolation play major roles in this. After all, disabled people face practical, social, and emotional barriers. This means that anxiety can affect them in unique ways.

Anxiety disorders are different from feeling stressed sometimes. These mental illnesses involve intense fear and stress. People can’t just “snap out of it,” and the disorder can hurt daily life.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD isn’t only for war veterans. Any type of traumatic event can cause it. For example, physical abuse, sexual assault, accidents, and natural disasters can cause PTSD.

The same things that cause disability can cause PTSD. If someone becomes disabled due to illness, accident, war, or a physical attack, they may also have PTSD from the event.

Unfortunately, PTSD is linked to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia causes severe pain and fatigue. One study found that about 45% of people with fibromyalgia had PTSD, whereas only about 3% of the general population does. Today, experts believe that PTSD can trigger fibromyalgia.

Severe disability discrimination can also cause PTSD. Disabled people may face bullying, harassment, and even physical violence. Some people with disabilities are traumatized as a result.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

While many people have heard the acronym OCD before, not many understand it.

Movies show people with OCD being neat and picky. Then some people describe their cleanliness by saying “I’m so OCD!”

But OCD isn’t about wanting a clean kitchen. It involves obsessions (unwanted and intrusive thoughts that can be upsetting or creepy) and compulsions (rituals to stop the obsessions).

For example, someone might have intrusive thoughts about the house burning down, so they might check the gas stove over and over. Or they might have intrusive thoughts about murdering their family, so they do clapping rituals to get rid of the idea.

People with OCD rarely act on these thoughts. In fact, the thoughts can be deeply upsetting to them. Their compulsions don’t always have a logical connection to the thoughts.

Like PTSD, OCD can be caused by trauma. In fact, research finds that people with PTSD have a 30% chance of developing OCD within a year.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Social anxiety involves fears that people are judging you. People with SAD may avoid socializing because they think they will be laughed at or judged.

Social stigma can worsen social situations for disabled people. Worryingly, 49% of non-disabled people don’t think they have anything in common with disabled people. Worse, 26% say they’ve avoided talking to disabled people. Thus, it’s not surprising that one UK study found that half of disabled adults feel lonely.

It doesn’t help that the world isolates disabled people. Physically disabled people may find it hard to travel to social hangouts. Once they get there, the place may not be accessible. This makes it harder to have good social experiences.

Unfortunately, overcoming SAD can be especially hard for disabled people. It’s not easy to find people who don’t judge people with disabilities.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety involves worrying about many things. This can include things like work, family, politics, the environment, the future, and more.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes GAD. However, they think that genes, trauma, and stressful life events might be involved.

Daily challenges and discrimination may play a role in GAD for disabled people. Disabled people are at higher risk for financial strain, unemployment, isolation, and abuse. All of these can worsen anxiety.

Panic Disorder

Trauma, genes, and life stress could all play a role in panic disorder. People with panic disorder experience recurring panic attacks.

Panic attacks may happen when you’re stressed. Other times, they happen randomly. They often involve some of these symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Intense fear
  • Pain in the chest, stomach, or throat
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling like you’re going to die
  • Feeling like you’re losing control

Even if you think you’re going to die, you’re probably going to be just fine. Experts believe that panic attacks don’t hurt your body.

Life stresses can cause panic disorder. Since disabled people face extra problems, panic disorder may be more likely.

Not everyone who gets a panic attack has panic disorder. Panic disorder involves more than one panic attack. People with panic disorder also worry about having more attacks, so they start avoiding things that they think will trigger a panic attack.

However, even if you only had one panic attack, talk to a doctor right away. They can help you get treatment so you can start feeling better.

Getting Help for Your Anxiety

Living with anxiety can be rough. The good news is that anxiety is treatable. Therapy and/or medication can help you if you struggle with anxiety. Try asking your doctor for ideas.

If it’s hard to leave the house, try online therapy. For example, BetterHelp, Talkspace, and Doctor on Demand let you see a therapist from home. You can talk to a therapist through text, phone, or video call. (However, keep in mind that many therapists will only diagnose you or prescribe medication in person.)

Reaching out to others can help you too. Try telling your friends and family that you’ve been going through a hard time. After all, they’re meant to be here for you. You can also work on making more time to hang out with your favorite people.

Think about lifestyle changes too. Maybe you know what’s stressing you out. See if you can work on fixing it. For example, if a family member always criticizes you, maybe you can ask them to stop it, or you could spend less time with them. You can also make more time for exercise, relaxation, and your favorite hobbies.

Anxiety only makes life harder for disabled people, and it’s the last thing they need. Luckily, treatment can help. Talk to a doctor as soon as you can if you’re struggling with anxiety.

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