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February 20, 2018

Taking the Worry Out of Anxiety

By Dr. Richard Boyum

In the past five years anxiety disorders have shown a large percentage of increase among Americans. In most people, these difficulties are demonstrated most frequently be generalized anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorders manifest themselves through restlessness, difficulty in concentrating or sleeping, irritability, fatigue, and muscle tension. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder report that these feelings and behaviors occur almost daily with only intermittent periods of relief. Panic disorders are recurrent, and often unexpected, attacks of anxiety that accelerate very rapidly. During a panic attack an individual often feels out of control. Heart palpitations, chest pains, sweating, chills, hot flashes, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, light-headedness, feelings of unreality or disassociation, fear of losing control or of dying are common symptoms. Individuals in a panic attack are usually unable to focus or concentrate.

Anxiety disorders and panic attacks have a number of causes. There does seem to be a genetic component or predisposition for these types of difficulties. Individuals who experience generalized anxiety disorders or panic attacks generally report having a higher incidence of family backgrounds where similar behaviors, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions of various types exist. Panic disorders and generalized anxiety disorders can also be caused by stress overload, sleep-related disturbances, and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Particularly in the case of panic attacks, increasing numbers of individuals report a paradoxical response to marijuana smoking. Rather than relaxing the individual, marijuana smoking can induce increased levels of anxiety and full-blown panic attacks.

There are a number of ways to deal with generalized anxiety and panic attacks. First, it is really helpful to be assessed by a counselor, psychologist, or physician. A full evaluation will help pinpoint the difficulties. Second, medications can be helpful in helping an individual get through anxiety-related difficulties and panic attacks. Antidepressant medication seems to work very effectively in treating anxiety disorders. It takes four to six weeks for the medication to have its full effect. There are also short-acting anti-anxiety medications that are very effective, but they have a downside. Individuals need to be very careful of their alcohol consumption while taking these medications. These drugs also have an addictive component to them. Third, counseling can help. Individuals report that when they learn how to rethink various situations, they ca gain a greater sense of control over their thought process. Plain and simple, individuals learn not to panic over their panic or become anxious over their anxiety. The acknowledgement of the feeling and a better understanding of life factors, as well as thought processes that affect anxiety, can make a major difference in how you feel. Counseling is very effective in helping to create this understanding. Fourth, cardiovascular exercise, stretching, weight lifting, and relaxation skills such as yoga are all effective in helping to modify anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Getting rid of the tension if you exercise, and learning to breathe deeply and relax seem to alter the threshold that allows anxiety or panic to take hold. While daily relation exercises and physical activity are best, many intervals report that activities three to five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes prove to be very helpful. Fifth, lifestyle reassessment is also an important component of anxiety disorder and panic attack management. Are you doing too much? Are you involved in activities or things that are really unpleasant to you? Is your life headed in the right direction? Are you taking on responsibilities that really belong to somebody else? What is missing in your life? By sitting down and carefully assessing how you live your life and where you are headed, you may be able to more effectively manage your anxiety.

Hopefully this short paper on anxiety disorders and panic attacks will give you a better understanding of your, or a friend's, situation. Don't worry--anxiety disorders and panic attacks can be both managed and overcome.