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Everyone experiences a bit of anxiety. My palms get sweaty the moment I realize I have to parallel park. I’m worried I’ll misjudge the space and bump into another parked car. Wondering if I was the only person who felt these twinges of nervousness, I asked my husband what made him anxious. He said, “Your parallel parking.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, anxiety in small doses can help “keep us alert and cautious to avoid accidents.” It’s when this anxiety prevents us from engaging in everyday activities that a larger anxiety disorder may be the root cause.
How can we gauge when anxiety might be a deeper issue for ourselves or a loved one? Dr. Christian D. Furman, medical director of the Trager Institute/Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic says, “Anxiety is an internal feeling, and only you can judge for yourself. It starts as a feeling of unrest and not being calm.”
Dr. Furman says that if you’re able to take deep breaths through your anxiety and go about your day, your anxiety is functioning at a level that works for you. Difficulties arise when a person’s anxiety begins to interfere with their daily routine. Crippling feelings of panic and fear take over and it becomes a struggle to accomplish tasks like eating, sleeping, or going to work. These are all outward signs of an inward struggle.
Along with feelings of overwhelming worry and foreboding, physical symptoms can manifest. “Chest pain, not being able to breathe, and feeling like you’re having a heart attack are all symptoms of anxiety,” Dr. Furman says. These symptoms can set the stage for a much talked about and overpowering physical expression of anxiety: The Panic Attack.
“The worst symptoms of anxiety go toward panic attacks. They have a flavor to them where the sufferer believes that there is a catastrophe that is going to occur,” says local Psychiatrist Dr. David Easley. Panic attack symptoms can include feelings of intense fear and worry accompanied by physical sensations like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, and nausea.
If you suspect you or a family member are struggling with an anxiety disorder, then you’re certainly not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health over 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders of varying degrees. The causes of anxiety are many, vary from person-to-person, and can range anywhere from traumatic events, inherited traits, or even underlying health issues such as heart disease or diabetes.
The good news is there are many medical and non-medical treatment options available. These run the gamut from talk therapies, to mindfulness practices, to medication. When seeking help for anxiety, “a good first step would be to talk to your primary care provider. They can offer help and also refer you to a professional,” Dr. Furman says. One professional referral might include talking to a counselor or therapist.
“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a good way to explore the intensity of the emotions involved,” Dr. Easley says. CBT is an appropriate treatment for people of all ages and is a version of “talk therapy” that focuses on present-day circumstances and emotions and generally doesn’t spend a great deal of time delving into past events. The focus is placed on what a person is telling themselves in the current moment that might result in their anxiety. It’s proven to be helpful for many patients.
Another successful treatment option is a mindfulness practice. Dr. Furman says, “Meditation, yoga, and breathwork all help to alleviate a great many symptoms of anxiety disorder. All of these techniques work, and it’s really individualized.” Trained counselors are able to guide a patient through these modalities to give them a practice designed specifically for them. Dr. Easley adds, “With techniques such as meditation or exercise, these are healthy ways sufferers have learned to distract from physical symptoms like a racing heart or rapid breathing.”
Medication is also a way sufferers can find relief from the exhausting cycle that anxiety creates. “Non-habit forming medications can be prescribed by a licensed professional,” Dr. Easley says. Depending on the type of medicine prescribed, these medications can take two to six weeks to take effect but are generally well tolerated in most patients.
Anxiety is hardwired into each of us and is helpful in many ways. But for some, this sensation is immobilizing. If you or someone in your family experiences anxiety, remember there are many treatment options. If a family member is already dealing with anxiety and you’re looking for positive ways to support them, try following doctors’ orders. “If the suggestion by that person’s doctor is to exercise then let’s get the whole family to exercise together!” Dr. Furman says. The love of family can offer a healing of its own.
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