SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) — Sometimes it’s the invisible medical conditions that are often undermined and misunderstood. This week ABC 7’s Jess Doudrick is taking a look at five of these ‘undercover illnesses,” exposing what they really are and how those around us are affected.

On day 3, the focus is on anxiety. It’s a mental disorder that comes in many forms from panic attacks to phobias and is a lot more common than you think.

Doctors don’t fully understand what causes an anxiety disorder. it can be a traumatic life event or even be inherited, just like depression. For some people, there may be an underlying health issue. Whatever the cause, the key to combating anxiety is getting help early.

Kelly Lefer’s anxiety started when she was being bullied at school in 7th grade.

“I’d start getting frantic and hyperventilating, and I’d have to go to the clinic,” Lefer explains. “I knew that something was going on, so I was in the clinic basically most of school.”

Lefer saw counselors, therapists and tried several medications. Now she’s 29 and still suffers from anxiety.

“I could be here talking to you and having a complete panic attack and you would never know,” Lefer says. “It’s exhausting is really what it is. My mind is always racing.”

Many people can’t understand what people who suffer from anxiety, like Lefer, go through.

“People assume that anxiety is just because you got scared or you are depressed because you are sad,” Lefer says. “People will say, ‘just don’t be upset about it.’ Well if that were the case I wouldn’t be upset about it.”

Lefer wants people to know that just because it’s something that they don’t understand doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Mental health professionals agree with Lefer.

“These are people like you and me.” Jeffrey Standring, executive director of the Mental Health Community Centers says.

Standring explains that while we all may feel anxious or nervous at times, it’s something that is manageable for the most part. It’s when anxiousness takes over your life and you can’t handle daily tasks that it becomes an issue.

Anxiety is more of an excessive worry. Symptoms include sleep issues, irrational fears, compulsive behaviors and panics.

There are healthy ways to deal with anxiety.

“The bottom line is don’t continue to isolate,” Standring warns.

If you or a loved one are suffering with anxiety and don’t know what to do next, call the Mental Health Community Centers at 941-953-3477.

The series continues on Thursday, November 9th at 6 p.m. with a look at dementia. A Suncoast woman lost her grandfather to complications with dementia. She shares what it’s like to be a caregiver and describes what his mind was like in those final days.

Watch ABC7 WWSB MySuncoast video »

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