Anxiety due to having a diagnosed medical condition or as a result of managing that condition
How does anxiety start? When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) is triggered, producing adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. This survival instinct results in specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This stress response becomes a troublesome pattern when our body's reaction is greater than the actual threat or danger. Sometimes these overreactions (which don't feel like overreactions!) evolve into habitual responses and irrational thoughts.
What does anxiety look like?
Symptoms of anxiety include:
Feeling out of control due to anxiety
Fatigue/Sleep problems/Lack of sleep
Lack of appetite
Panic, fear and uneasiness
Avoiding places, things or people
Why can't I control my anxiety? When faced with a threatening situation, we experience anxiety symptoms. Our instinct is to avoid or leave this situation. However when we avoid these situations, our anxiety and fear only grows and reappears when we experience similar circumstances again in the future. Unfortunately, we begin to learn and incorrectly believe that we are unable to handle the situations and these feelings of anxiety intensify. This anxiety cycle repeats itself relentlessly until there is a change in thought or behavior.
How do I stop feeling anxious? Do I really need counseling?
The longer you avoid dealing with anxiety and put off seeking help, the worse it can get. Therefore, take your anxiety seriously and take active steps to manage these symptoms now. Anxiety is best managed by identifying and treating the original cause and the factors that keep it going. Some good options for responding to anxiety include cutting back on caffeine (the more, the better), getting proper nutrition, and having enough time for sleep, relaxation, and exercise. It can also be helpful to keep your mind focused on the present time, rather than thinking or worrying too much about the future. Having a daily routine or schedule can limit time spent feeling anxious. Those living with panic attacks or anxiety attacks can try to cut down on stress levels and worrying behaviors and have daily practice of relaxation techniques or mindfulness exercises. It would be best to limit overfocus on physical signs of panic and practice getting out of your comfort zone- especially non-dangerous situations that you might be avoiding.
If you find that your symptoms continue even after trying these techniques/advice, you might seek professional counseling. As humans, we have a strong internal drive to avoid things that make us anxious. Have you heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind”? I have worked with a few clients with panic attacks that experienced a sudden improvement, as though their symptoms disappeared. While this could happen, it is more often the case that other factors are responsible for the change- and that the panic attacks would eventually return. If you recall, anxiety reflects a group of symptoms that are uncomfortable and lead to strong desires to avoid situations based on past experiences or information.Therapy treatment of panic attacks involves unlearning these thoughts and behaviors, resulting in less intense anxious feelings.
Can't I just take a pill? I have heard anxiety pills are effective in the treatment of anxiety and panic.
Anti-anxiety medication (also known as "benzodiazapines") can be prescribed for the treatment of panic attacks. While they seem to be "effective", they actually are NOT the first line of treatment. Furthermore, they lead to secondary problems, which can actually do more harm than good. Benzodiazapines are habit forming and are not intended for regular and/or long-term use. They do nothing to address the root problem- i.e. why you are afraid of something that is not dangerous (such as going into a store)- and teach you that you need to take these specific pills to be able to "cope." If you do feel like your anxiety is too overwhelming for you, talk to your prescriber about starting an anti-depressant medication (a more appropriate and non-addictive form of treatment). As the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress lessen as a result of the anti-depressant medication, therapy with a trained professional, such as myself, can help you develop tools and techniques to correct the irrational thoughts and fearfulness. It is possible that you will be able to wean off of the medication with your prescriber's management. Some prescribers may prefer or recommend to use benzodiazapines for symptom management, and that is ok; however, this is not the best treatment option for most people experiencing panic attacks.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call or send me a note. I look forward to hearing from you ! - Dr. Melissa Soo Hoo
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