In today’s society, anxiety is a term used loosely to express when people feel stress is getting the best of them. But what many people may not know is that anxiety can be an effect of other diseases.
Emily Beck is a sophomore English major who was diagnosed with anxiety during the summer of 2014. The past two years she has struggled with another disease that led to her anxiety, Graves’ disease.
“Graves’ disease is a form of hyperthyroidism, which is a disorder with the thyroid. But it’s an autoimmune form so it also attacks the immune system at the same time. And your thyroid is really the kind of controller for the energy levels in your body and your metabolism rate,” Beck said.
This disease took a toll on Beck, making her tired, hormonal and caused her to gain excessive weight due to a lack of physical exercise.
“It affects my sleep, I was tired all the time, but then I had issues sleeping, and then because of its affect on your body’s energy, it affects your emotional state because you’re tired all the time,” Beck said. I was more likely to snap at people, and I have a lot more anxiety, so that’s where my anxiety got worse. Physically, I couldn’t do a lot and I used to be a very active person.”
As Beck was getting ready to go to college in fall 2013, she had to decide how to handle her disease. Along with her parents and her doctors, they decided to first treat her with medicine. In December 2013, she had surgery to remove her thyroid.
“We tried medication for almost a year. It was probably about seven or eight months that they tried to medicate me to see if there was a way to control it, because my thyroid was producing way too much of the hormone than it normally should produce,” Beck said.
“But the medicine I was on wasn’t something you could be on long-term and so there were two options; either to go through a form of radiation or to have surgery.”
During her first semester of college, Beck joined Alpha Omega and gained new friends who supported her through her disease. One of the girls, Kelsey Poole, a sophomore special education major, has experience with Graves’ disease.
“I noticed [her anxiety] probably closer to our first set of finals that we studied for together, because even though I was really stressed out, she seemed to be a lot more stressed out than me. But I also knew that she had her thyroid problems, and my mom had the same disease as her,” said Poole.
It wasn’t until after her surgery that Beck noticed she was still experiencing some hormonal problems. Her best friend, Victoria Howard, whom she has known since she was very young, noticed the change in her.
“We definitely talk a lot more in the summer because she’s doing less and we’re able to get together a lot more in the summer because she’s at home, which is obvious,” Howard said. “But she’s definitely less stressed and not as busy. I think she sleeps better, she’s not up as late.”
Over this past summer her doctors officially diagnosed her with anxiety, and now she is figuring out how to deal with it.
“It was nice to realize that it was not as big of a deal as I thought it was. It kind of helped me put a label on the problems that I was having and it just helped me pinpoint whenever I was getting anxious and know that that’s why it was happening and that I wasn’t going crazy,” Beck said.
Anxiety can take a toll on your mind as well as your body. Darren Ritzer, a professor of psychology here at Winthrop, believes that anxiety is more than just overwhelming stress.
“When I think about anxiety, I think more about pressure. So in a sense I think kind of like a physics example, in terms of a load,” Ritzer said. “Like when you put a load on something you put pressure it either forms or breaks totally.
“So when I think about anxiety or I think about stress, I kind think about that in terms of a mental representation of that kind of load bearing. You can only take so much, and sometimes it’s good but then it kind of weighs you down, slows you down and might even break at some point.”
Not only was Beck experiencing anxiety, she knew she was having social anxiety, which is a reason she has a hard time opening up to people, as her friend Green explained. According to the Mayo Clinic, social anxiety disorder is “also called social phobia, everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged by others.”
Since the beginning of the semester, Beck has been meeting with the Office of Disabilities here on campus to figure out how she can do better in her classes and her social anxiety while also dealing with her disease, which she will be taking medication for, for the rest of her life. She is hoping to learn how to keep her anxiety levels down and her GPA up.