What Are Anxiety Disorders - Tips

Everyone has the experience of anxiety some of the time.  Anxiety is normal and healthy.  It alerts us to danger.  But anxiety can also be overwhelming and paralyzing.  It can interfere with daily life.  This unhelpful anxiety is called an anxiety disorder. The following tips will provide information about anxiety disorders and offer strategies for managing this problem.
Note that the symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be easily confused with other serious medical disorders.  If your experience is urgent, go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.

Comments are welcome and personal problems may be sent privately to my email address: DrSandraHaber@gmail.com.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 1. Anxiety disorders may be general or specific. The key issue is that they feel very disturbing and disrupt daily life.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults.  Anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 2. The cause of anxiety disorders is not clear. Some research indicates that there may be a genetic component to these disorders. Sometimes anxiety disorders can be triggered by environmental stress.  Regardless of the cause, anxiety disorders have nothing to do with intelligence, character flaws or lack of motivation to overcome the anxiety.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 3. What adds to the difficulty in understanding anxiety disorders is that not all  people  feel the anxiety in the same situation.  It is hard for a person who experiences mild anxiety  about test taking to understand why another person will be up the night before an exam and vomiting from anxiety.  That is why it is common for the person with anxiety to be told  “Just get over it!”—which is a truly unhelpful response!

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 4. There are several types of anxiety disorders:, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias,  obsessive compulsive disorders and post traumatic stress disorders.  Each is unpleasant and most people who suffer from these experiences would like to rid themselves of it.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 5. A panic disorder (also called an anxiety or panic attack) are sudden and extreme bouts of anxiety that can feel like they come out of nowhere.  Sensations may include heart palpitations, breathing irregularities and trembling.  People sometimes wind up in the emergency room of a hospital because they feel like they are going crazy or are having a heart attack.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 6. A generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is another type of anxiety disorder.  It is usually less intense than a panic attack and but tends to be more widespread.   People who have this problem are experienced by others as chronic worrywarts who always think about what can possibly go wrong.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 7.  People with GAD find their day clouded with negative thoughts—the phone rings and they worry that it is bad news; the boss scowls and they think they are about to be fired; their partner is late  coming home and they worry about a car accident.  While these outcomes are possible, they are not probable. People with GAD spend much of their time living in unnecessary  worry, sadness and crisis.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 8. A social anxiety disorder is a fear of being seen, criticized or humiliated in front of other people.   Social anxiety can look like extreme shyness and the person may have difficulty making eye contact or expressing themselves in conversation.  The most common type of social anxiety is public speaking ( stage fright).

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 9.  A phobia is an extreme and incapacitating fear of something very specific.  Examples would be fear of spiders, fear of heights, fear of closed spaces.  Phobias are extreme and interfere with daily life.  People with phobias  avoid situations in which the feared object or situation might occur.  This avoidance only tends to strengthen the phobia.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip 10. A person with an  obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has many obsessive thoughts or repetitive behaviors.  Worries, such as thinking they are hurting someone’s feelings or that they forgot to turn off the oven interfere with daily life. Behaviors such as repetitive handwashing or needing to touch one’s face can feel uncontrollable.  Medication can be helpful in quieting the symptoms of OCD.

What are anxiety disorders? Tip  11.   Another type of anxiety disorder is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an extreme anxiety that comes after a traumatic or life threatening event.  People with PTSD can experience flashbacks  and  nightmares.  They tend to avoid situations that are reminders of the event.  Examples of situations that can cause PTSD for some people are war experiences,  torture or bullying and unexpected violence such as 9/11 or the Boston marathon bombing.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 12. It is helpful to remember that as unpleasant as a panic attack is, the experience does not last a long time.  Panic disorders usually subside within 10-30 minutes.  In other words, although this experience feels like it is going to go on forever, it will not.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 13. Once a panic attack is over, it is important to try to identify the trigger to the episode.  The trigger varies with the  individual, but it is almost always something that represents a psychological danger to that person.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 14. One of the main problems with panic attacks is that the person fears a recurrence.  This can lead to avoidant behavior and a narrowing of life choices and experiences. Recognizing the trigger, and coping with this trigger in a different manner, is helpful in minimizing recurrences.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 15. Medication is sometimes a component of managing a panic attack. While medication is not useful in identifying the underlying trigger to the attack, it is helpful in modifying the anxiety experience.  Once a trigger is identified, medication can be used as an exit strategy (for emergencies only) as the person learns coping techniques to manage their anxiety.

What can you do about anxiety disorders?  Tip 16. Keep a diary to identify what preceded the panic attack. Think of yourself as  a psychological detective.  The more you know about what triggers the onset of your disorder, the more you can do about it.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 17. Changing cognitions or thoughts is a helpful strategy in managing the triggers to anxiety disorders.  For example, if I feel panicky about flying, it can be helpful to know that air travel has far fewer accidents than travel by car.  It also might be helpful to normalize the feelings of airplane turbulence  with many types of activities that we are already familiar with.   For example, when we ride a bicycle, we move side to side as we push down on the pedals. There are usually  some surprise bumps when the pavement is uneven.  Riding a bicycle is not a smooth, stationary experience.  Neither is flying in an airplane.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 18. With generalized anxiety disorders, it is helpful to recognize that while bad things do sometimes happen, living your life waiting for bad things to happen is a terrible experience.  People who are chronically worried have difficulty with the unknown and tend to imagine the worst possible scenario.  Accept that possible problems are not probable problems.  If and when a bad thing happens, you will deal with it.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 19.  Practice correcting thoughts is helpful to people with anxiety disorders. Talking about the fear, rather than hiding it enables change to happen. For some people, group psychotherapy is often helpful in normalizing anxieties.

What can you do about anxiety disorders?  Tip 20.  Learn to accept imperfections.  Public speaking is a source of anxiety for many people.  A common worry is that you might make a mistake or  forget what you want to say.  I remember listening to  Gloria Steinem at the American Psychological Convention.  In the middle of her talk, she went blank and forgot what she wanted to say.  Her response was “I’m having a senior moment!”. The audience laughed, she remembered her point,  and she resumed her talk.

What can you do about anxiety disorders. Tip 21.   If you have trouble sleeping, consider a white noise machine, a fan, or meditations to lull you asleep and manage disturbing sounds. Sleep apps and meditations are available over the internet and on cell phones.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 22. Keep up or begin a solid exercise regimen.  The natural endorphins your body produces with exercise go a long way to managing anxiety.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 23.     Take the energy from worry and immerse yourself in another activity.  Volunteer activities are a win-win choice.  You get some time away from your anxiety and someone else gets a helping hand.    

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 24.  Life is uncertain.  There is no way to control everything. No matter how much energy you put into plans and safeguards, there are many twists in the road.  Life is not painful, but there are some painful moments in life.

What can you do about anxiety disorders? Tip 25. Reflect on past problems and losses and remind yourself that you managed to get through those times. Problems that seem catastrophic in the moment do not stay that way for long.  If the worst happens, have the confidence and know that you have the skills and resources move forward in life.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder: Tip 26.  Listen, accept and relate. Normalize their experience. After all, you probably have your own irrational worries.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder: Tip 27. Suggest that they get help-be it from a  group, a self help book or a professional.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder: Tip 28. Work with them to destigmatize psychotherapy.  Sane, smart and healthy people consult psychologists for anxiety management issues.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder:  Tip 29.    Go with them to a class that teaches mindfulness, relaxation techniques or yoga—all 3 processes help quiet the mind.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder: Tip 30. Destigmatize medication.  This can be an important and temporary helper that is often overlooked.

If someone you love has an anxiety disorder: Tip 31.   Remember that anxiety disorders respond well to treatment.  You may not become an instantly calm person, but you can learn to manage anxiety disorders and free yourself from needless worry.