Anxiety Disorders and What To Do About Them
Intro to Myself
I'm a 23 old Male suffering from both Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. If you read my other Bipolar article, you'll know that I suffer from that as well. This article is aimed at enlightening people to what these Disorders are, and how they can affect the life of the sufferer.
First note: These Disorders are not only REAL but they can cause hell for the sufferer
Many families, doctors, and random strangers have been known to comment that these disorders are "all in their head" and that just isn't true. I wouldn't be suffering from something my entire life if I could simply switch it off. Those are my thoughts on it.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
What is it?
It's a persistent, general anxiety, just like the title describes. For some, it may come or go, but for most, it's always there to some degree, just different degrees of severity. Anxiety is like a sense of impending doom that causes fear. This fear in many with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD from now on) is usually based upon unfounded ideas or concepts. Fears of things that may happens (completely unrealistic events), or of objects or events that may cause them harm in some perceivable or non perceivable way.
How does this disorder manifest itself in everyday life?
It can manifest itself in many ways:
-It can cause the sufferer to avoid any stimuli that causes them fear or pain leading to agoraphobia, the recluse disorder.
-It can cause the person to exhibit physical symptoms of anxiety during their everyday life. Some of these symptoms are:
-Tremor of hands (sometimes it's small shaking of hands, or sometimes it's as if an earthquake is happening)
-Heart palpitations/racing heart (When one is anxious, they can begin to become aware of their heart rate, which are heart palpitations, and can be aware of their heart rate increasing)
-Racing thoughts (mind frantically speeding in several directions trying to conquer to anxiety, in vain)
-Headaches (these racing thoughts can cause headaches and migraines in some cases)
-Nausea (in the most extreme cases, nausea and vomiting may occur from extreme anxiety)
-Blood loss to extremities (the adrenal response causes the blood to move away from your extremities and may cause your hands and feet to appear white and bloodless)
-Suicidal thoughts (anxiety can cause one to become overwhelmed in their own mind and become suicidal. GAD wears the sufferer down like a river overwhelms a rock and causes it to shift in shape.)
The list could go on, I'm sure, but these are just a few of the general symptoms of GAD.
How do I respond to this anxiety?
There are many responses. The natural response is to try to attack it. To destroy the source of the anxiety and be "better" again. Unfortunately, our brains are complex and oftentimes can be an organ that is harmful to itself. You'll want to ruminate on the anxiety and the sources of the stress and how to conquer it, but in the process you're just exacerbating it, and giving the anxiety room to grow like evil fungus in the garden of your mind.
Here are some techniques for conquering anxiety in a peaceful way:
-Accept the presence of the anxiety. Give it room to swim around in your thoughts but do not focus on it. Let it fight itself, for fear itself is harmless unless you give it the ability to harm.
-Focus on something external that causes you to be calmed. It may be a portrait of Buddha, or Jesus, or a picture of your childhood. Whatever it is, focus on that, and what it means to you, and let your breathing normalize.
-Breathe. Long slow breaths. Focus on the breaths.
-Exercise. Not vigorous anaerobic exercise, though if you must, that is useful for fighting fire with fire. I'm talking of Yoga, aerobic exercise (running, jogging, calisthenics to an extent), and Tai Chi. Taking your mind off your fears, and letting those fears leave your body through your motions, positive motions.
-Do whatever makes you happy. If you can't get away from whatever it is that's causing your the anxiety, then try to focus on doing something that makes you happy. For that one thing that tortures your mind (or multiple things) can ruin your day in the least, and ruin your life at the worst.
Don't let it ruin your life.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is based upon the signs and symptoms listed above, and telling your doctor about them. It's hard to diagnose something that can't be visually seen, but good doctors will be understanding of your honesty about your fears and will recommend several things.
They may recommend the lifestyle techniques listed above, or in some cases (as in my case), they will recommend the medical route for cessation of symptoms.
Certain types of medications in use currently:
These can be useful in cessation of anxiety and in treating Depression. Originally they were meant as anti-depressants, but nowadays they have been used more and more to fight anxiety. For me, however, they did nothing to abate the anxiety.
These are special drugs that are considered controlled substances since they do have abuse potential (overdosing for euphoric effects) and directly destroy anxiety for a set amount of time. There are some benzos that are short acting, and some that are long acting. It's up to your doctor which one is more effective. The short acting ones are more for panic disorder, and the long acting ones are for GAD.
What is it?
It's like GAD except the symptoms are much more severe (seeming) and can be debilitating in the short-term if not handled properly. Panic Disorder means you can have a Panic attack. I'll explain what a panic attack is in a moment.
It looks and seems just like a heart attack, and can be mistaken as such. That's why people with undiagnosed Panic Disorder can have their first panic attack and think they're dying and land themselves at an emergency room, but then the symptoms go away and they feel fine again within half an hour. Recognizing a panic attack for what it is is important to stopping it from getting out of control.
Signs and Symptoms
Shooting pains in right arm/whole body
Feelings of impending doom and hopelessness
What can I do to differentiate this from a heart attack?
Because the symptoms are so similar, one can never be too sure of the difference. The suggestion I make, and most healthcare providers make is SIT DOWN, BREATHE, and FOCUS ON CALMING DOWN. If you don't calm down after 30 minutes, and the symptoms just get worse and worse, have someone drive you to a local ER. It may be a heart attack, and if there's a history of heart issues in your family, it may be possible that you are having a heart attack.
What measures can I take to not have panic attacks?
This is tricky, because natural instinct tells you to avoid whatever or wherever caused the panic attack (though in true panic disorder, the where and when and what are not usually discernable). The panic induced can be falsely attributed to whatever our brains think it might be. Our minds typically are adept at choosing whatever it is that we think the panic was caused by and now we naturally want to AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS.
But avoiding it is not helpful. Spending all day with it is not either. There must be a balance. Facing fears as well as managing them appropriately.
Benzos are the first-line medical defense against panic attacks. This is your xanax and lorazepam and clonazepam. The first two are short-acting but potent benzos that if taking right at the onset of the panic attack, can help you completely avoid it or at the least, destroy the majority of the symptoms.
Will I ever be cured of this disorder?
In my experience, the more you know about it, and the more you understand what types of situations "set you off", the better. I've completely avoided panic attacks now after taking antidepressants and using benzodiazapines and using all of the recommended techniques for removing stress from your life.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This is like a mix of GAD and Panic Disorder, except the trigger is always something social. Rarely will any doctor prescribe anything for this, or recognize it as anything that is worth medical intervention. The symptoms can be the same as with GAD and as severe as in Panic DIsorder, and actually lead to panic attacks, but sadly it is so very common that it is also seen as something that doctors don't want to do anything about. They treat it like "it's a part of life, deal with it" but honestly it can make all social events become unpleasant and unenjoyable and that can lead to reclusiveness and loneliness and depression. It's all interrelated.
Conclusion and Summary
Anxiety is a part of everyday life, but for some it is like an unwanted in-law at a wedding. Something that should never happen, but is there anyways. There are ways to combat anxiety, and I've named a few, but it's always an on-going battle. Every day is a struggle, and I hope that this introduction to these three interrelated disorders has been helpful in some way. For someone such as me who has suffered from these disorders for many many years, I can say, do not lose hope, do not stop searching for a doctor that will take you seriously, and do not stop trying to combat the cloistering effects of anxiety. You will win, you will succeed!