Have you felt anxious at some point in your life?
Have illness, being fired, feeling discriminated, unemployment, job searching, new job, moving to a new city— made you feel stressed and overloaded?
Have you had full blown panic attacks – chest pain, palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath and dizziness?
Is your anxiety becoming part of a cycle of doubt, worry, fear, inaction, paralysis, depression?
“You need some anxiety in your life and it’s there for a reason. It’s what motivates us to work and keeps us out of trouble,” says Dr. Tom Rebori, medical director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Center at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Illinois.
If anxiety is interfering with your daily life – disrupting sleep or concentration – it could mean that you have an anxiety disorder. New treatments and research offer good news: anxiety disorders are highly treatable.
Here are the four main anxiety disorders, plus tips and techniques to cope with them and learn to deal with them.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
In the last six months, have you spent half of the days worrying?
Excessive worrying — which interferes with daily life — also causes physical symptoms like low energy, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, sweating, nausea and difficulty concentrating.
Here are two ways of coping.
Keep a worry log so you see patterns and learn to replace negative thinking with another thought until you gradually change your inner dialogue.
Set up “worry periods.” Dr. Dave Carbonell at Anxiety Treatment Center in New York tells patients to set up two 10-minute worry periods every day where they can isolate themselves. By giving their full attention to the worry, it becomes boring because there’s not that much content to it.
Scared of losing control, that you’re dying or fearful that you’re going crazy?
Panic attacks occur in certain settings—a crowded mall, elevators. You can associate a situation with that reaction and start avoiding certain situations. Just because you’ve had a panic attack doesn’t mean you have panic disorder, though, unless you’ve had at least two unexpected panic attacks, followed by at least one month of concern about experiencing another attack.
Getting to understand what’s happening is key to treating the disorder: facing (not avoiding certain situations), accepting (not fighting the panic attack, but welcoming it), floating (relaxing through the anxiety without resistance, like floating through water) and letting time pass (knowing that the attack will pass).
Social phobias involve an intense fear of situations – usually social or performance-related settings – for fear of having a panic attack.
Specific phobias involve an excessive fear of an object or situation that causes anxious symptoms similar to a panic attack.
Social phobias are treated the same as panic disorders. For specific phobias, the common treatment is gradual exposure.
The first step is to talk about the fear to begin to understand that you won’t die or go crazy when in contact with object or situation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Whereas GAD patients worry about the future, PTSD involves worrying about something that happened.
PTSD is a condition where sufferers have been through some kind of traumatic experience. The symptoms are a heightened degree of arousal, nightmares or recurring thoughts, feelings of detachment, sleep problems, high startle response or jumpiness, flashbacks and depression.
Treatment is learning how to live in the present through relaxation.
Anxiety disorder symptoms can come and go. Yet it makes common sense to ease stress, eat healthier and exercise – lifetime habits that will help in the long run.
Set aside time every day for relaxing – use aPrayer, meditate, go for a mindful walk, enjoy a hot or naked yoga session, listen to music, soak in a hot bath – anything where you’re just being you.
For more information:
Edmund J. Bourne, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, New Harbinger Publications: 2000.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
National Institute of Mental Health