· By Caitlin Bray
Is Anxiety a Disability?
Anxiety can definitely feel disabling, but many people aren’t aware that it may also be able to be considered a disability.
“Disability” can sometimes seem like an overly negative word, but it doesn’t have to be. Arm yourself with information about anxiety (and mental health, in general) as it pertains to the potential for disability, as well as what your options are. Knowledge is power.
What “Counts” As a Disability?
A disability, according to the CDC, is any condition of either the body or the mind (called an “impairment”) that makes life more difficult for the person dealing with the condition. This includes the ability to do specific activities (activity limitation) as well as being able to interact with the people and world around them (participation restriction).
Disabilities can affect many different areas of life, including:
- Social relationships
- Mental health
If any of those apply to you, and if your anxiety regularly interferes with your life, there may be additional protections afforded to you. Just because your disability isn’t physical, doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. You also do not need to take medications, supplements, or other therapies to “count” as having a disability.
Part of the stigma of mental health is that people don’t take your condition seriously, but that doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for yourself. If you don’t, who will?
What is the Definition of Anxiety?
Now that we know the definition of “disability” and have a better understanding of what it is, let’s take a quick look at anxiety.
Anxiety, strictly speaking, is both physical and mental.
While you may first notice the physical symptoms, like a racing heart, shaking, and sweating, it starts as a fear response in the brain. While that may sound logical, for people with anxiety disorders, that response is often to something that doesn’t warrant that level of reaction. This is often due to an imbalance between two areas of the brain - the emotional part and the inhibitory part.
One of the specific parts of the brain most often to blame for anxiety disorders is the amygdala. For those with anxiety disorder, the amygdala is often extra sensitive and sets off the body’s fight-or-flight response much more easily than those with a normally functioning amygdala.
Also, in neurotypical brains, the prefrontal cortex works to dampen the anxious effects of the amygdala. In people with anxiety, the connection is much weaker which allows the amygdala to be constantly triggered.
There are a few different types of anxiety disorders that people commonly struggle with.
- Generalized anxiety disorder - Chronic tension and/or worry, usually without a provoking event.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder - An anxiety disorder that generally occurs after a traumatic event.
- Panic disorder - Repeated, sudden panic attacks (episodes of intense fear).
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder - Intrusive thoughts and/or compulsions to have to carry out certain behaviors, like handwashing or flipping a lightswitch a specific number of times.
- Social anxiety - Significant anxiety around social interactions, like public speaking.
People treat anxiety with a variety of different approaches - prescription medications, mental wellness supplements, and/or dietary changes, exercise, therapy, or a combination of all of these. It also often comes alongside depression (sometimes called “comorbidities,” which is just a scary name for two conditions that occur in tandem).
Does That Mean You Can Qualify For Disability Benefits?
Yes! According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (commonly referred to as the ADA) that was passed in 1990, any mental illness that interferes with your day to day life entitles you to at least ask for accommodations.
To clarify further, here are the specific rights that you are given under the ADA:
- Legal Protection - No matter what type of anxiety you have or how severe your symptoms are, you are eligible for ADA protections. What that means is that, if you are employed, your job is legally not allowed to discriminate against you for anything related to your mental health condition.
- Special Requests - If employed, you have the right to ask for “reasonable accommodations” to help you successfully do your job. Examples of these accommodations include things like working from home, having flexible work hours, and asking to work under a sympathetic boss or team leader. The only caveat is that you are required to disclose specifics about your condition.
- Additional Help - Most workplaces have something known as an EAP, or employee assistance program. With an EAP, you may be able to access assessments, referrals, short-term counseling, and other services to help employees with work or personal issues.
- Extra Mental Health Days - In some cases, certain mental health conditions may qualify you for either short (up to two years) or long (for the life of your conditions) term disability insurance (paid for from your employer). You will need to show documentation, and the process may be hard and lengthy but, if approved, you may qualify to receive anywhere between 50 - 75% of your base wage.
- Worker’s Compensation - For people who are subject to additional stress or trauma due to your job, worker’s compensation may be available to help pay for lost wages and medical expenses. The length and amount will vary from state to state.
- Federal Aid - If you end up not being able to work for an extended period of time, you are likely eligible for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income). These are both federal programs to help you support yourself while also managing your mental health.
The key to being able to successfully claim your anxiety as a disability is documentation. For many of the above benefits, you’ll need letters and/or certification from doctors, mental health counselors, psychologists/psychiatrists, etc.
How You Can Manage Your Anxiety
Disability or not, it’s important to know a few essential tips for helping to manage your own anxiety.
Supplementation of mental wellness boosting nutrients is an excellent option. Choosing a supplement made from products that have a long, documented history of helping to promote mental health, like GABA, L-Theanine, and Rhodiola Rosea, can help your brain naturally with feelings of stress and anxiety.*
It’s also important to have healthy coping mechanisms available when your anxiety really starts to spike. Instead of trying to develop a plan during a panic attack, come up with a list of things that you know will help you reduce your anxiety ahead of time. That way, when anxiety strikes, you have some easy “go to’s.”
Exactly what those coping mechanisms look like will differ from person to person, but often include things like going for a walk, calling a trusted friend, quiet meditation, breathing exercises, or spending time with your pets. It’s good to have things that you can do not only at home, but also in public.
When developing your coping mechanisms, it may be helpful to work with a therapist. Therapy in general, and specifically CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), can be nearly magical at helping you better understand and deal with not only your anxiety but also any triggers and any other mental health conditions you may be dealing with.
Exercise and healthy diet also plays a huge role in managing anxiety. Diets low in real nutrition, vitamins, and minerals and high in caffeine and alcohol consumption tend to exacerbate anxiety. Focusing on eating well, and reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol, can help your brain better focus on reality and fall victim less frequently to the traps anxiety can set for you.
Exercise also helps by releasing endorphins that make you naturally feel better and relax. In addition, it gives you something else to focus on and exhausts your body so you will be able to sleep easier.
It may take some time to find the right strategy or combination of strategies that work best for you. Don’t give up. Often, anxiety is trial and error but, if you stick with it, you can find yourself with a sense of calm and relaxation that you never thought possible.
What About Therapy Pets?
If anxiety is considered a potential disability, does that mean you can get a therapy dog (or cat, hamster, or other animal)?
In fact, in many cases, you can.
To qualify for a therapy pet, you’ll first need to get a letter of recommendation from either your primary care doctor or your therapist. Once you have that, you’ll need to look at the specific laws in your state. Many states require that you are actually part of the training process of your new service animal. You also must prove that you have a stable home and are financially able to take care of your new pet. Therapy pets may sound like a blast, but they do require a lot of paperwork and care.
Anxiety can be overwhelming. For those who find they are unable to keep up with life, even when using anxiety medication and mental health supplements, filing for disability may be an option available to help you get a better hold of things.
Mental health concerns can be just as debilitating as physical health concerns, and you deserve the ability to take care of yourself in whatever way you need. Take advantage of the programs out there, that’s what they’re there for!
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.