Are you one of millions who suffer from anxiety? Do you regularly avoid certain situations because your discomfort is unbearable? Do you bravely push yourself through dreaded activities, hoping no one will suspect how nervous you are? Or perhaps a vague anxiety constantly haunts you. Maybe you experience paralyzing panic attacks for no apparent reason.
Anxiety creates discomfort for many people. Unfortunately, few individuals realize this is not normal and that anxiety can be treated. They live with frequent or constant physical tension, insomnia and butterflies in the stomach. When anxiety is severe, its physical manifestations can be very frightening. Panic attacks, with chest pain and/or shortness of breath, lead to emergency room visits, where the frightened victim finds it hard to believe that simple anxiety can create such symptoms.
If you can identify with any of this, you may have an anxiety disorder that should be assessed and can most likely be successfully treated. For several reasons, anxiety should always be carefully assessed to determine its underlying source.
Anxiety can have many causes, both physical and emotional. Without knowing its roots, anxiety may be treated incorrectly or even worse, the treatment can create serious complications. Because it often masks itself in physical symptoms, such as chest pain, stomach or bowel problems or headaches and fatigue, correct diagnosis can be a challenge.
Not only is it sometimes difficult to correctly diagnose anxiety, finding what causes it sometimes presents a real challenge. Numerous medical conditions initially appear with anxiety as a component, so if you have never been anxious and are suddenly beset with it for no apparent reason, check with your physician to rule out a medical problem.
Most anxiety has its roots in psychological or psychiatric problems, some of which may be serious. Studies show that chronic anxiety sets the stage for physical wear and tear that eventually results in illnesses such as high blood pressure and lowered immunity. Eating disorders frequently are associated with anxiety, as people eat to calm themselves. Certain hormones are depleted by the stress of chronic anxiety, while others are increased and the entire hormonal system becomes unbalanced. Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs is not uncommon in the quest for relief from anxiety’s discomfort.
Psychiatric causes include depression, situational stress, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety may signal the onset of major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Nutritional deficiencies may also be culprits. Major life changes or transitions such as illness, loss of employment, divorce, marriage or relocation often precipitate anxiety; this is normal during difficult times. Anxiety is frequently an effect of stress, new situations or underlying medical problems; it is not a disease in and of itself. To treat it correctly, the cause must be determined.
If you feel anxious what should you do? If it is a recent development ask yourself what may be different in your life, what may be triggering stress, and wait until the situation is resolved. If you feel better you need do nothing. If anxiety has been longstanding and you seem to be physically healthy consider seeing a psychotherapist to determine the cause. If agitatio,n along with changes in sleep, appetite, motivation and concentration last longer than two weeks, you should see your physician, as depression may be present.
What is the treatment for anxiety? It depends on the source. Situational anxiety tends to dissipate without treatment unless the problems are long-term. Tranquilizers are designed specifically for anxiety, but should be prescribed very conservatively, as they are extremely addictive, and in the end, can worsen symptoms. They should be used no longer than two weeks.
If symptoms persist, assessment by a therapist or psychiatrist is advised, assuming no medical problems exist. Adequate follow-up is imperative. In cases of life crises that are temporary, tranquilizers can be safe and very effective. They should not be used long-term except when prescribed by a provider well versed in psychiatry or mental health issues.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years experience as a therapist, both in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Comments and questions may be submitted to email@example.com or 394-2861.