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Worried Sick

Do you experience sudden attacks of anxiety, fear, and panic? Here are some of the best ways to improve your quality of life.

Lindsay Morris
July 28, 2019

Anxiety is a normal part of life – pretty much everyone feels anxious before taking a test or a crucial meeting at work. But when someone has an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and grows worse over time. The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can put a kink in important parts of your daily life, like your job and relationships.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. Each year, tens of millions of Americans of all ages suffer from long-term anxiety. Among children, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness — one they may carry into adulthood.

Some of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder include restlessness, being easily fatigued, having a hard time concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, and sleep problems.

Panic disorder affects 2 to 3 percent of people in the United States per year, and it is twice as likely to occur in women than in men. Individuals with panic disorder tend to have spontaneous panic attacks, and they, therefore, become preoccupied with the fear that they may happen again, at any time.

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on suddenly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks are usually brought on by a trigger, such as an object or situation the person fears.

Many people with panic disorder are embarrassed or afraid to tell anyone about what they experience, instead distancing themselves from family and friends who could be supportive.

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety or panic disorder, what can you do to combat it? How can you become a productive member of society and engage fully in your relationships with friends and family?

Gain knowledge
The first step in overcoming your panic disorder symptoms is to understand what is happening in your body when you experience an attack.

Living in fear of having a panic attack and therefore avoiding situations that may cause them can often create more situations and more avoidance in a never-ending cycle of fear and anxiety. Although scary, panic attacks are harmless; they are the body’s alarm system kicking in and are not designed to harm you in any way.

While the response may make you feel as though you are going crazy or dying, you are not. Your body would have the same reaction if you were facing a physical threat, such as coming face to face with a bear.

The goal is not to eliminate the attacks, but to find a way to manage them without fear.

Learn relaxation techniques
Meditation is calming for many people and can help clear your mind of worries. Several meditation apps are available on smartphones, such as Calm, Headspace, and The Mindfulness App.

Deep breathing can be beneficial in the middle of an anxious or panicked moment. Inhale, taking a deep breath from your abdomen as you count to three. As you inhale, you should feel your stomach rise. After a short pause, slowly exhale while counting to three.

Recognize your triggers
To identify what sets off your anxiety or panic attacks, you will need to slow down and become more mindful. Doing this will help you to determine the situations or people that trigger your anxiety. In some instances, you may be able to avoid these triggers. In others, you will need to gain the courage to be able to deal with these situations.

Face your fears
Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do when dealing with anxiety and panic attacks is to ask yourself, “What if?” What if the thing you’re so worried about actually happened? Would you survive? The answer is almost always yes.

There are some healthy ways to face your fears. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, you can talk through your fear with a loved one or counselor and eventually face that fear — ideally with someone there to support you.

Watch what you’re consuming
Be careful not to drink too much alcohol or caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Also, don’t skip meals. Having an empty stomach can make you more susceptible to irritability and anxiety. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

Make exercise a priority
Exercise is a great way to let go of some of those things you’re anxious about. Try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) each week, an hour of vigorous-intensity exercise (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recommends.  

Consider therapy
Therapy can be beneficial for people facing anxiety disorder and panic attacks. One well-established and highly effective treatment is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. It focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. Benefits are usually seen in 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the individual, according to the ADAA.

Consider medication
For some people, there may come a time when medication is needed to help face anxiety and panic attacks. However, medication is an option to try after trying other options first, such as counseling, says Devon Morris, APRN-CNP with Utica Park Clinic. “There are specific medications that can help with anxiety attacks, but many of them are habit-forming. For generalized anxiety, there is some good medication that is taken daily to improve the general state of anxiety.”