Anxiety/Panic Attack

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state of heightened feeling of fear, worry or concern. All of us experience fear and anxiety at one time or another. It is normal for anyone to feel anxious, to some degree, about certain things or events. As long as that feeling is proportional to the problem or situation at hand, it is not abnormal.

Why do we have anxiety?

Anxiety is an "alarm system" of our mind, a protective and defense mechanism, that prepares our entire body, alerting us to danger, for "fight or flight." When a visibly angry person comes towards you with a knife, your heart beats faster, your breathing more intense, your palms and forehead get cold sweats, and your mind races. In this instance, adaptive anxiety is not only normal but is a beneficial and helpful reaction, allowing you to make a split-second decision and a swift response to the danger that lies before you. When one is busy and has a handful, anxiety can provide the will and energy to finish the job or get things done more efficiently. Medical science still does not fully know the causes of anxiety.

What is an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety Attack is an abnormal and exaggerated degree of worry over trivial incidents or things, or for no reason at all. Here, anxiety is out of control and disproportional, leaving the individual with an overwhelming and incapacitating sense of fear and dread for justifiable reason. This maladaptive anxiety disrupts life, happiness and peace of mind.

What are the types of anxiety?

They are Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Phobia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What is Generalized Anxiety?

Generalized Anxiety is a constant fear or worry that is out of proportion to, or not compatible with, reality. Example: a wife worrying all the time about the health of her husband who is actually very healthy. Common accompanying symptoms include inability to concentrate, loss of sleep, dizziness, dry mouth, muscle tension, trembling, fast heart beat, nausea, irritability.

What is Panic Attack?

Panic attacks is a type of anxiety disorder, which is related to some specific trigger object or situation (example: a woman sacred of mice may panic when she sees a mouse). Some of the symptoms are similar to those of Generalized Anxiety plus the following: choking, chest pains, fear of drying, fear of losing control or going crazy, chills and flushes, sweating, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling sensation, feelings of detachment from environment, strangeness and unreality (like being in a dream). Persons who have this disorder usually anticipate and fear another attack (anticipatory anxiety). They also fear that they might a serious heart or lung or disease or a brain tumor, and go to the Emergency Room or to their physician for urgent care.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

This is another type of anxiety disorder, where a person has certain thoughts or ideas that recur over and over, or does certain rituals over and over. The individual is aware of these (repetitive) abnormal rituals but can't seem to control them. Example: washing the hands often for fear of germs, repeatedly checking the locks on the door for fear it is not locked, arranging things a certain way for fear of bad luck if they are not "properly in order."

What is a phobia?

Phobia is an abnormal and extreme fear and anxiety as a reaction to specific situation, event or objects. Example: fear of bridges, snakes, crowds, heights, spiders, open places or fear of social gatherings. All of us have a certain degree of normal phobias. It becomes a problem only if it disrupts normal life. One particular situation is agoraphobia, where a person does not want to leave home for fear of having a panic attack, or fear of not being able to escape if an attack occurs. This is more common than panic disorder and affects about 3.8% of women and about 1.8% of men during any six-month period. Most of them are in their 20s, and most unsual after 40.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

This type of anxiety follows a severely traumatic physical or emotional experience. Example: serving in the military during an active war, assault or rape, surviving a plane crash, torture or tornado, or a car serious accident. These individuals relive the traumatic events thru flashbacks, memories or dreams. Without appropriate medical care, these persons may become emotionally numb and withdrawn, try to avoid any situation, places, people or objects that remind them of their painful experience.

Can anxiety be a side-effect of some medications?

Yes, anxiety can be a side-effect of some drugs, which, when stopped, causes the anxiety to go away. Chemical imbalance in the body can also contribute to the occurrence of anxiety.

How does one handle anxiety?

1. Take control of your worry by picking a place a specific time period to do your worrying. Spend a few minutes analyzing your concerns and think of what you can do about them, and not dwell on what might happen, but on what is happening and of the rational way to resolve them.
2. Learn how to relax, listening to soft music, doing yoga, meditation, biofeedback, deep breathing, dancing and enjoying time with friends and/or family members, etc.
3. Exercise regularly to decrease your anxiety.
4. Try to sleep at least 8 hours a day.
5. Confront the things that have made you anxious before, in order to get used to handling them and be more comfortable doing it.
6. Stay away from cigarettes, alcohol or drugs
7. Avoid coffee, soft drinks with caffeine (colas), tea and chocolate, since all of these tend to increase anxiety.
8. Consult with your physician. Most of these conditions respond well to proper medical care, which might include simple advice and reassurance, psychotherapy and/or medications.

Recognizing and accepting the fact that there is a medical problem and taking action to resolve it promptly is the first step towards healing. Modern medicine has so much to offer today, thanks to the mind-boggling cutting-edge technology in health and sciences.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.