Anxiety, Panic and Phobia
Anxiety and panic attacks occur when we have an uncontrollable response to what is typically an ordinary and nonthreatening situation. Your heart may start to pound and you may feel like you're dying. You could break into a cold sweat and start shaking. Your vision could become blurry and you may start hearing static or echoes. Anxiety and panic attacks are overpowering and overwhelming, and they feel like they control your life. However, they are very treatable and are among the most common disorders I see in my practice.
Symptoms of a panic disorder
If you experience recurrent panic attacks, and at least one of the attacks leads to a month of increased anxiety or avoidant behavior, then you may have a panic disorder. You may also qualify for the diagnosis if you have recurrent or constant fears of having a panic attack even if you've only had a handful of attacks.
To be officially diagnosed with a panic disorder you must experience at least four of the following symptoms while having a panic attack:
- Pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Chills or hot flashes
Panic attacks may last for about ten minutes, but while you're having one it seems to last forever. Try to remind yourself that it will pass. Panic and anxiety always pass. However, the attack can linger with you for a while afterwards, leaving you feeling jittery and anxious.
Symptoms of an Anxiety disorder
Anxiety is similar to panic but it tends to be less severe and more drawn out. Anxiety intensifies over a period of time and often goes hand in hand with excessive worry. The symptoms of anxiety look a lot like the symptoms of a panic disorder. Anxiety symptoms may be:
- increased startle response
- increased heart rate
- muscle tension
- disturbed sleep
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
Again, even though these symptoms are similar to panic symptoms they tend to be less intense. One other difference is that an anxiety attack may be drawn out over days, weeks, and even months.
Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively in social situations and in interaction with other people. It can really get in the way of everyday life. When you experience social anxiety you can feel incredibly deflated. Not being able to spend carefree time with your friends feels debilitating. Social anxiety may manifest through a critical voice that can become overwhelming while spending time with friends. The critical voice is oftentimes seen as the truth and will distort reality and thinking in the moment. It's often very hard to come up with a more realistic counter voice when your social anxiety is triggered. Treatment will focus on developing a healthy counter voice to start replacing the overly critical one.
Symptoms of phobia
Phobias are irrational, involuntary, and inappropriate fears to ordinary and normally safe situations. The phobias we develop typically come from the past and are projected onto the present. They can come from traumatic events that we experienced as children or adults. Sometimes we are not able to figure out where the phobia came from, but it's still very treatable. If you have some phobias you may experience anxiety and/or panic attacks.
Phobias can be divided into three different types
- Social phobia – an intense fear of looking stupid, foolish, weird, or silly in public when out with friends, family, and strangers. If you have social phobia you typically avoid public situations and areas.
- Specific phobia – an intense fear of a specific object, such as a fear of snakes or spiders or people on tall bikes.
- Agoraphobia – an intense fear of feeling trapped in a situation, especially in a public place. Agoraphobia is combined with the fear of having a panic attack in a strange and unfamiliar place. In Greek, agoraphobia literally means "fear of marketplace."
Having phobias can lead to feelings of depression and low self-worth. We all have phobias to some degree. It is completely normal to be afraid of a few things in life. However, when these phobias start getting in the way of everyday life, and are keeping us locked up inside, it is time to seek therapy.
Anxiety about anxiety
Feeling anxious can be anxiety provoking. One of the very worst parts of suffering from anxiety, panic, and phobia is the fear that you may have an anxiety or panic attack. This fear of possibly suffering from an attack is usually the thing that keeps us avoiding social situations and intimate relationships. The fear robs us of enjoying life and living a life that feels free and liberated. Therapy can help you achieve that sense of liberation from anxiety.
Treatment of Anxiety
If you'd like to treat the anxiety and panic yourself you should start living a healthier lifestyle. Here in Portland it may be difficult to get out during the rainy months to exercise, but if you do manage to move around every day it can be very helpful. Remember to eat a proper balanced diet. Portland offers a lot of healthy eating places and you should try to take advantage of them. I know how good the coffee is in Portland, but you may want to ask for decaf more often so that you are not taking in too much caffeine. Caffeine can add to your chances of feeling anxious. Remember to reduce your alcohol intake and try to live a stress free life as best as you can.
The above treatment suggestions work well if your anxiety symptoms are mild to moderate. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, you should think about scheduling a free consultation with me so that you can explore the possibility of getting professional help.