ANXIETY AND PANIC DISORDERS
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a fairly common experience. Sometimes, it can even be helpful tool for survival. Anxiety is an evolutionary feature in humans, and other animals, that helps us detect danger. The example I often give is the anxiety you feel when you stand near the edge of a cliff - your body suddenly screams, "BACK UP!" I like to think of this as a friendly reminder from anxiety that you may fall off the edge and get seriously injured. It's an alarm system to keep you safe.
But what happens when anxiety is too overwhelming?
Anxiety disorders like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder all occur when anxiety and panic interfere with your daily life. Most people aren't facing danger on a daily basis, but still experience anxiety and panic like they are. Anxiety can have very serious impacts on work performance, social life, romantic relationships, and your ability to try new things places. It can have the power to hold you back from your best life.
SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Disorder of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), common symptoms of anxiety include the following:
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY & PANIC
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
- Tight chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Sweaty palms
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of choking
- Extreme changes in body temperature
- "Zoning out"
- Tingling or numbness in extremities
- Stomach problems or nausea
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling easily tired or fatigued
- Excessive worries on most days
- Difficulty stopping worry
- Feeling restless or on edge
- Trouble concentrating
- Tension in muscles, especially the neck, shoulders, or jaw
WHAT IS A PANIC ATTACK?
Panic disorders and anxiety disorders can look very similar; and panic disorder can often be a feature of an anxiety disorder. You may have heard of the term "Panic Attack". Panic attacks happen when an individual is so overcome with anxiety symptoms, they feel they might be dying or that something could be seriously wrong. Panic attacks can sometimes mimic heart attacks - in fact, many people take a trip to the emergency room because they think they are having heart problems.
An "anxiety attack" typically refers to when a person has extreme symptoms of anxiety in reaction to a stressor. For example, an anxiety attack can be caused by past trauma, phobias, or nervousness. A "panic attack can be triggered by seemingly nothing at all. They are usually unpredictable and unwanted.
TYPES OF PHOBIAS
Phobias refer to fear and anxiety about specific objects or situations. Some common phobias you have likely heard are "arachnophobia" (phobia of spiders) or "claustrophobia" (phobia of confined spaces). Both of these are specific phobias related to objects. Having a phobia is different than simply fearing something. I can tell you that I am very afraid of spiders, and I don't enjoy confined spaces at all... but I probably wouldn't consider myself to have a phobia.
A fear becomes a phobia when the fear grows so strong that it significantly impacts your life. Perhaps the phobia stops you from going to the zoo because you fear even the thought that a snake might escape. Or maybe the phobia stops you from flipping through television channels because you want to avoid seeing the thing you are afraid of. Having a phobia means that you can hardly tolerate being around the thing that you are afraid of. You may not even be able to tolerate the thought of it.
There are a few types of phobias that are often talked about in the world of psychology. The most notable are specific phobias (fear of specific objects like spiders, clowns, or surfaces with holes), agoraphobia (commonly portrayed as fear of leaving the home, but more accurately is the fear of being trapped in certain locations/situations), and social phobia (the intense fear of being perceived in a negative way by others to the point of avoiding social situations).
TREATMENT & CURE FOR ANXIETY & PANIC
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Anxiety can feel like a beast in your life. While there is no "cure" for anxiety, there are certainly ways to relieve the symptoms. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help ease the symptoms of anxiety in significant ways. Avoiding caffeine, or other substances that invoke an anxious response can help keep anxiety at bay. The American Heart Association recommends thirty minutes of mild to moderate exercise a day for healthy physical and mental health. Eating well, exercising, and engaging in mindfulness exercises (like meditation) are all ways to help decrease anxiety symptoms.
THERAPY & COUNSELING FOR ANXIETY
When maintaining a healthy lifestyle falls short of easing anxiety, therapy is an excellent option. Therapy can help you get to the root of anxiety and discover new ways to combat your symptoms. Therapy can be a long term or short term solution, depending on what you are looking for. If your anxiety feels unmanageable, you might consider contacting me for a free consultation. Together we can help reduce your anxiety and live the life you've always wanted.
MEDICATION FOR ANXIETY
There are many medications for anxiety on the market. If you are interested in trying medication, you can find a prescriber in your area. Medication is certainly a good option for some people, however some people like to attempt to treat anxiety without medication. This can absolutely be done. Therapy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are highly recommended to compliment medical treatment. Medications often come with side effects that can impact daily life. It is important to ask your doctor about these when discussing medication options.