- Mental Health
Anxiety Relief: How to Attack Anxiety When It Attacks You
WHAT IS ANXIETY? (DEFINITION) 1,2
Anxiety is any feeling of extreme concern or anticipation, uneasiness, worry, fear, or apprehension. These feelings may be associated with uncertainties about things to come, such as the belief that negative, painful, or difficult events are looming. Frequently, anxiety results in panic when people are expecting danger--real or perceived.
It's easy to see why people need anxiety relief. It is a very debilitating feeling that can actually "attack" a person. These attacks, known as panic attacks or anxiety attacks, are typically accompanied by physical sensations. A person's behavior may also be affected by experiencing anxiety.
Anxiety does not always have to be bad. Like the "Fight or Flight" response, anxiety can help heighten our senses to impending harm and help us be more alert to responding. Anxiety, when it is not constantly recurring, is necessary for survival--dating back to a more primal era.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN ANXIETY ATTACK? 3,4
An attack of anxiety can occur slowly and gradually or suddenly and unexpectedly. The level of anxiety experienced can be mild or severe. An anxiety attack starts with feelings of anxiety during a time or in a situation where nothing out of the ordinary is happening. The person will be perceiving anxiety essentially for no reason.
If you or someone you know has experienced this, anxiety relief is just a few paragraphs away!
Be sure, however, that you understand the difference between a mere rush or anxiety and an anxiety attack. If a semi-truck was headed straight for you and you experienced a sudden rush of anxiety, this would not be considered an anxiety attack. Why? Because anxiety would be justified and expected in this dangerous situation. If you were taking a bath and suddenly feared that a semi-truck might hit you--then you experienced a sudden rush of anxiety--this would be an anxiety attack.
During an anxiety attack, people generally experience:
- Hives and/or hot flashes
- Feeling like you're "going crazy"
- Feeling detached and isolated from the rest of the world
- Light-headed or "woozy"
- Feeling "out of body," like you are somewhere else than where you really are
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and/or heart pounding
- Cold sweats
ANXIETY DISORDERS 5
Many people seeking anxiety relief actually develop a medical condition that falls under the umbrella of an "Anxiety Disorder." According to the National Institute for Mental Health, there are 5 types of Anxiety Disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder
I will discuss each of these disorders more specifically in the second part of this article.
Self Help Tips For Anxiety Reduction:
1. Learn How to Get Your Mind & Emotions To Work For You. Learning a few simple things about how your mind works - and how to take control of your thinking and emotions - can make a world of difference! There are dozens of self-help books on Amazon.com (or at your local book store) that you may find useful. Otherwise, for a particularly practical place to start, I highly recommend this self-help magazine article.
2. Consider Meditation. Meditation can be a great tool for reducing anxiety. Most cities have local courses teaching meditation, otherwise consider taking Yoga classes. Yoga is not only a great way to strengthen, stretch, and exercise your body, many Yoga classes also teach meditation as well. For more information on the various branches of Yoga see Wikipedia.
TEN THINGS TO DO IF YOU HAVE AN ANXIETY ATTACK?
- Contact your doctor. If you have a therapist or counselor, contact them as well.
- Get support. If you don't have a counselor or therapist, it is important that you reach out for help. (See the box on the right).
- Learn as much as you can about relieving anxiety, why people have anxiety attacks, signs, symptoms, treatments, etc. Knowledge is power! Even just knowing the statistics can be helpful...you are NOT alone.
- Recognize what may trigger an anxiety attack in yourself and try to avoid or overcome those issues (depending on the trigger).
- Use affirmations and deep breathing--remind yourself that you are going to be OK. Say, "I am OK. Everything is fine. I am safe. Nothing bad is going to happen." Repeat this over and over.
- Get creative--such as, if a traumatic event has caused you to be afraid of the dark, sleep with a night light.
- Keep a journal. Pour out your feelings and concerns on paper. Get them off your chest.
- Start exercising, if you don't already. Exercise releases endorphins, which are "happy," stress-relieving hormones.
- Call someone. Often times having a connection to "the real world" can pull you out of your slippery slide into panic. Even if you don't talk about the way you're feeling, calling someone can be helpful.
- Catch anxiety before it starts. When you start thinking about worrisome issues or find yourself fearing something unrealistic, recognize it and talk yourself out of going down that path.
HOW PREVALENT IS ANXIETY DISORDER? 6, 7
Research shows that at some point in life, one in four people will experience some form of an anxiety disorder. The most common anxiety disorder is social anxiety (11%). Also, anxiety disorders are the most common "mental illnesses," experienced by 19 million American adults. The break down, based on the specific form of anxiety is:
- Social Anxiety Disorder - 5.3 million Americans (3.7% of the US population)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - 5.2 million people (3.6%)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder - 4 million (2.8%)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - 3.3 million (2.3%)
- Panic Disorder - 2.4 million (1.7%)
GENERAL ANXIETY RELIEF: COUNSELING 8
In addition to learning as much as possible about anxiety, many people suffering from anxiety find counseling to be beneficial. In counseling, one can deal with any underlying causes that might be contributing to the anxiety attacks. Counselors can bring anxiety relief by helping one to see their situations more objectively.
Because anxiety attacks can be a result of one's lifestyle, counselors are trained to help put patients back on the right track. This can involve techniques for managing anxiety, relaxation, or recognizing when an anxiety attack is starting and stopping it before it takes hold. Specifically, a counselor or therapist can:
Help you to understand Anxiety Disorder
- Create a recovery plan based on your specific needs
- Give you tips and resources for anxiety relief
- Continuously evaluate you, your progress, and your condition
- Provide validation, assistance, and tools for self-help once your counseling is complete
- Prescribe anxiety medication
If you aren't interested in counseling, there are also anxiety coaches and support groups. Both of these alternatives will provide similar benefits--except medication.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY ATTACKS? 9, 10
There are 5 main factors believed to contribute to anxiety attacks:
- Environmental factors: such as poverty, problems at home, having a critical boss, teacher, or parents, being around other people who experience anxiety
- Personality traits: such as poor coping skills, believing you are out of control of your life or that the world is scary and dangerous, lack of self-confidence
- Brain chemistry: such as having a chemical imbalance that makes you prone to anxiety, like having high levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Hereditary: such as having a family history of anxiety disorders--not so much because of biology but because of learned behavior
- Trauma: such as a sexual assault, car accident, being a soldier in a war, divorce, death of a family member, etc.
Although, this is not officially recognized as a "cause," excessive caffeine (a stimulant) and drug/alcohol abuse can also contribute significantly to anxiety attacks.
ANXIETY DISORDER IN YOUNG PEOPLE 11
Sadly, it is not uncommon for children and teens to experience anxiety and panic attacks. Many people have heard of "Separation Anxiety." This is anxiety related to being separated from your parents, or other important people. This can be experienced by children as young as a year and a half, according to scientists. Approximately 4% of youngsters experience this condition.
Social anxiety, or what may be seen as extreme shyness or "being a home body," is also common in young people. In this case, the events that trigger anxiety are things like:
- Being alone with and interacting with peers
- Public speaking or performances
Having to take any kind of leadership role with peers, such as having to get their attention or address them
Adults can also suffer from social anxiety. Social anxiety can hurt work and school attendance and lead to depression and alcoholism.
There are 7 types of medication for anxiety. While medication is NOT a cure, it can be used on a temporary basis to help control symptoms:
- Benzodiazepines - Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, Serax, Librium
- Beta Blockers - Inderal, Tenormin
- Tricyclic Antidepressants - Tofranil, Norpramin, Pertofrane, Aventyl, Pamelor, Elavil, Sinequan, Adapin, Anafranil, Desyrel, Effexor
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) - Nardil, Parnate
- Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) - Prozac, Luvox, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa
- Mild Tranquilizer - BuSpar
- Anticonvulsant - Depakote
- Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed pills for anxiety--although they are not effective for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Anxiety medications can have a variety of side effects you must be careful of:
- Short-term memory loss Nausea
- Sexual dysfunction
- Nervousness (NOT a good side effect if you're suffering from anxiety!)
PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN COMMENTS & JOIN THE DISCUSSION!
Please add your own comments, below, and share your thoughts. What helps you best to feel less anxious? Your ideas are valuable as the sum of all our inputs is far greater than just mine! Thanks.
Images used (in order) with permission from:
- 'nyc subway anxiety' www.flickr.com/photos/30201246@N00/50313485
- 'Goodnight' www.flickr.com/photos/55869737@N00/289058805