by stresswinner on March 3, 2010

“Anxiety –  the handmaiden of creativity” – Chuck Jones
Suddenly, you can’t breathe – your heart pounds wildly, your chest tightens and hurts, you feel as if you’re choking, you’re dizzy, unsteady, sweaty, nauseated,  shaky  and faint, the world seems unreal – and it feels like the end has come.  You think:  “My God – a heart attack!
It’s not, but it sure feels like it!  This is a  Panic Attack, an  episode of  intense, extreme anxiety – the basic symptom in several ‘mood disorders’.  It leaves you physically weak and perhaps mentally confused and worried that it will happen again:  “I’ll  die”; “I’ll lose control”;  or “People will laugh at me!”
The physical symptoms of anxiety and fear are called the ‘fight or flight’ reflex, designed to help us survive dangerous threats by tensing muscles, raising heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure and generally preparing the body to fight or run away. This reflex can save our life, but if it comes right ‘out of the blue’  then it’s a useless reaction which makes us think that something is terribly wrong with us.
Anxiety disorders take many forms:
* Panic Attack with Agoraphobia.  Once you’ve had an attack, you may naturally feel like  avoiding places  such as stores, cinemas or churches – where, if you had an attack you wouldn’t be able to get out quickly. You may have increasing difficulty leaving your  ‘safe place’ (usually the home)
* Specific Phobia. Paralyzing anxiety becomes linked with  specific situations or things such as:  Animals – snakes, dogs;  Environment – heights, water;  Medical – blood, or fear of injections; Situations – bridges, elevators, planes.
* Social Phobia. Panic is triggered by social gatherings,  speeches and performances. We fear being embarrassed and  mocked  by others.
*  Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  A reminder of a horrific event or a ‘flashback’ can trigger disabling anxiety.
* Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Severe anxiety is related to persistent thoughts such as harming others, touching germs, or actions which one feels compelled to repeat over and over, such as hand washing, counting, or checking things.   The urge must be satisfied  or the panic level becomes unbearable.
* Generalized anxiety.  Less intense symptoms are present much of the time, you can’t  relax  and  you worry so much about minor matters that you can’t function properly.
Anxiety disorders are not a sign of weakness, but common, real medical problems. The basic cause is sensitivity of the anxiety-triggering parts of the brain combined with biochemical imbalance, which may be inborn, result from early traumatic experiences or alcoholic, neglectful or abusive parents. High stress levels may trigger attacks, which are often combined with other medical problems such as depression, substance abuse, and fibromyalgia.
Treatment starts with understanding the symptoms and causes. Family doctors provide support and information, and coordinate treatment including: medications to relieve anxiety and antidepressants to prevent attacks,  psychiatric consultation,  and expert counseling for support and teaching skills such as relaxation, rational thinking, and raising self-esteem.  Regular intense exercise, and therapies such as hypnosis and biofeedback are helpful but excess caffeine and alcohol are not!
Yes, anxiety disorders can be disabling, but one option is to use the energy of anxiety creatively to  become ultimately stronger and happier. By understanding our physical and emotional reactions, finding meaning and purpose in life and striving towards achievable goals we can gain the courage and perseverance needed to face and overcome our fears.

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