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Understanding Anxiety and Panic Disorders
By Luella May
In this day and age, it is common to come across people suffering from anxiety disorders. By “anxiety” I don’t mean common every day stresses. This type of anxiety deeply impacts an individual’s life, often becoming debilitating.
Anxiety disorders affect 2.4 million Americans. This means that 1 in 113 Americans lives with this condition. Contributing factors range from our toxic environment, to the very foods we eat, to our hectic pace of life.
A certain amount of anxiety is a normal part of life and can be beneficial in our day-to-day performance. However, anxiety becomes debilitating when it escalates beyond proportion and becomes out of control, almost having a life of its own. A person who suffers from this type of disorder feels the same stresses and fears that we do with one major difference: Their stress and fear is overly magnified.
For example, think of a time when you were the most fearful. Now, magnify it 100 times. How does it feel? Magnify it again 100 times…and again…and again. Do this until you have magnified this feeling 1,000 times. This is exactly what a person with an anxiety disorder experiences.
A person who suffers from anxiety doesn’t experience stress as we do. Our feelings of stress are of a temporary duration. A person suffering from anxiety has an overwhelming constant sense of apprehension, very often including feelings of fear and dread. This constant heightened state of alertness, an always-present flight or fight response, places a severe demand on the body and accounts for what happens next.
Physical symptoms surface, which only serve to further frighten the individual suffering from this condition. Muscles, especially around the shoulders and neck, become stiff. They may experience heart palpitations, numbness, tingling, blurry vision, electric shock feelings, and they may experience a sensation of waves throughout their head. Actually, there have been over 100 physical symptoms reported. Too often, the uncontrolled constant surge of adrenaline brought on by this state of constant apprehension will eventually affect the sympathetic nervous system, not only causing disturbing physical symptoms, but as the demands get more difficult for the body to withstand, it can result in what is called a panic attack.
The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and that triggers severe physical reactions.” I suppose this sounds bad enough, but I consider it a mild description of what a panic attack actually is. From my personal perspective, a panic attack is nothing short of a simulated heart attack or stroke. It is no wonder that a person suffering a panic attack feels as though death is imminent. To make matters worse, these panic attacks do not usually occur in the comfort of your own home. They usually occur in public, very often in a store setting. Another common place for a panic attack to occur is while driving a car. This only serves to add to the terror that the individual already feels.
Unfortunately, panic attacks too often are not just a one-time occurrence. Public places very often serve as triggers, which result in additional panic attacks. The terror caused by these experiences results in the individual’s avoidance of such places. The person becomes fearful of driving and going to the store or other public places, and little by little withdraws from life, becoming homebound. The anxiety disorder has now progressed to a panic disorder and the individual is now classified as agoraphobic.
Severe depression normally goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Because of a person’s individual makeup and experiences in life, it is impossible to tell whether depression has been instrumental in causing anxiety or vice versa. There is usually no way of telling which condition came first.
The causes of this disorder are varied. Sometimes it simply has a physical cause, such as poor diet. Many times it is a faulty thyroid causing this condition. Anxiety caused from a physical source is usually easier to recover from. However, in most cases, the cause is emotional, many times stemming back to childhood. Poor nutrition, however, does contribute to this condition. Those with anxiety disorders tend to drift to comforting foods that include unhealthy carbs, sweets, junk foods, fast foods, and so forth, thus feeding the condition and making it worse. Many seek relief in alcohol. This relief is short lived and usually leads to catastrophe as the sugar content in alcohol will only serve to eventually trigger the very panic attacks that they are trying so hard to avoid.
The good news is that an anxiety/panic disorder is very treatable, and it is most treatable naturally. Medications prescribed by healthcare professionals are usually not the answer. Medications such as SSRI`s and benzodiazepines, only mask symptoms. While at times appearing to bring relief, they come with their own price, side effects, some of which are dangerous. Additionally, these drugs are highly addictive. These medications work by turning off necessary emotions needed in every day life. You will find that many who rely on antidepressants don’t feel sadness, but they also don’t feel joy. Additionally, benzodiazepines tend to lose their effect after a short period of time, necessitating more and more in order to relieve anxiety and those dreaded bodily manifestations.
Natural alternatives are a safer and more effective way of dealing with anxiety and panic. There are supplements that will not only help to relieve those feelings of anxiety and panic, but aid in total healing. I will emphasize that resolving emotional conflicts is a very important part of healing, as many times this is the very source of the anxiety and panic.
Supplements that are just as effective in treating anxiety disorders are:
A person whose anxiety has reached such proportions will, in most cases, need a therapist to point the way toward healing. Resolving present and past emotional conflicts is crucial, together with learning a new way of thinking. The therapist will teach the individual coping mechanisms such as relaxation exercises, visualization, meditation, etc. Cognitive behavior therapy is another stepping stone toward healing.
Diet cannot be overlooked. Proper nourishment will result in less anxiety. A diet rich in Omega 3’s will ease depression, while foods containing L-Tryptophan, such as turkey, will help the body to relax.
An anxiety disorder is a much misunderstood condition involving the emotional and the physical aspects of one’s being. Healing from this condition encompasses Body, Mind, and Spirit. The best option in achieving total wellness is addressing it through meditation, introspection, and by using diet and the herbs and supplements that nature has provided.