This week’s Ask a Therapist: Anxiety disorders and tips to treat them.
Question: “I always feel afraid. It feels like it can be the most minor thing, and I’m still afraid. I worry about everything, sometimes so much I feel like I can’t breathe and I’m losing my mind. I feel really alone with this, no one will understand. Someone told me that they think I have an anxiety disorder. I’m embarrassed to ask about it but I’m tired of feeling like this. – Anonymous”
If you feel that you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you are not alone. They affect about 12% of all Canadians in any given year.
They are also very treatable!
As a group, anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive anxiety in the absence of any real threat, or by behaviors designed to avoid situations that would trigger the experience of anxiety.
- Some physical symptoms sometimes include: rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, loss of appetite, anxious eating, trembling/shaking.
- Some cognitive symptoms include: irritability, fear of losing control, exaggerating danger.
- Some behavioural symptoms include: avoidance of anxiety-producing situations, exaggerated startle response, clinging, dependent behaviour, agitated behaviour.
Anxiety Disorders manifest themselves in many ways:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by at least six months of prolonged, vague, unexplained fears. The fears are not focused on any particular object or situation but are pervasive. Folks with generalized anxiety experience chronic muscle tension, hypervigilance, and may find their heart racing for no reason at all. It is also characterized by apprehensive feelings about the moment and the future. Sometimes people with this type of crippling anxiety experience panic attacks which can result in avoidance behaviours.
More about Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are sudden attacks of fear and terror. In some cases, they are triggered by particular situations, and are thus somewhat predictable; in other cases the panic attacks occur seemingly at random. Panic attacks often occur in the middle of the night and people experiencing panic attacks often feel like they are going to die; in fact, panic attacks are frequently mistaken for heart attacks.
People who have recurrent panic attacks may receive a diagnosis of panic disorder. People with panic disorder often develop anticipatory anxiety, which is the fear of having a panic attack. Anticipatory anxiety may cause people to avoid activities that have previously been associated with panic attacks, including leaving home.
Sometimes drug treatment can help alleviate symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. However, the issue with drug treatment occurs when you stop taking the medication. In all cases, the symptoms that are being treated return.
Psychotherapy (in particular Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), requiring exposure to the feared situations combined cognitive restructuring and relaxation techniques have helped clients to cope with, (and in many cases eliminate), panic disorder and avoidance behaviour altogether.
Tips for treating anxiety disorder:
- Seek professional help. I know that in my practice I have successfully treated many clients with severe anticipatory anxiety.
- Engage in regular exercise. This reduces stress and can interrupt the rumination of the mind that often accompanies anxiety.
- Learn all you can about anxiety.
- Talk to others and especially find safe people who you can turn to. It is important to test your sense of reality with others who do not suffer from excessive anxiety.
Ask a therapist at Summit Counselling Group. We randomly select one of your questions and answer it on our blog. To submit your anonymous question, just visit our blog page on our website (the message box is on the right hand side). http://summitcounselling.ca/blog/
Summit Counselling Group is made up of eight, professional, and compassionate Registered Clinical Counsellors; working with individuals, couples, adults, children, adolescents, and families at our executive West Broadway office in beautiful Vancouver, B.C.