Worry and fear are usually a normal human response to everyday stressors we all experience in daily life. But when the fear response to a perceived danger or stressful event becomes all-consuming and is clearly out of proportion to the actual event, it is a sign that an anxiety disorder may be to blame. When excessive worrying interferes with normal daily activities it can manifest itself in one or more types of anxiety disorder.
Anyone who has ever been stricken with a severe panic attack knows the signs of crippling anxiety. For no known reason, suddenly one becomes overwhelmed with an intense version of the “fight or flight” response. Those who have experienced such an attack truly feel as if they are dying of a heart attack or stroke during the episode, with heart palpitations, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, and a feeling of weight bearing down on the chest. The body responds by unleashing a flood of adrenaline and norepinephrine into the bloodstream, while also activating the adrenal-cortical system, and helps prepare a human to either fight for their life or to run for the hills. Panic disorder is just one example of the signs of crippling anxiety.
What Exactly Is Anxiety?
First it is important to describe what anxiety is not. Those nervous butterflies, sweaty palms, or shallow breathing we experience occasionally as sparked by a stressful situation is just an ordinary human response to a common stressor, such as having to deliver a public address or go to a job interview. An anxiety disorder involves impairment, where one can no longer satisfactorily function due to experiencing severe anxiety symptoms.
The anxiety disorders spectrum represents the most prevalent mental health conditions in the U.S., with 18% of the adult population and 25% of the adolescent population affected by anxiety each year, according to statistics provided by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. There are several types of anxiety, each presenting its own unique set of symptoms and challenges. These include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD is characterized by excessive worry and irrational fear that may cause shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, trouble concentrating, fatigue, short-term memory issues, dizziness, and sleep problems. This can result in chronic somatic symptoms, impairment in daily functioning, and negative impacts on social functioning and career.
Panic disorder is commonly referred to as a panic attack, the spontaneous and unpredictable events that feature a racing heart, heart palpitations, chest pains, trembling, chills, nausea, and shortness of breath. These attacks last about ten minutes and then subside, although they are frightening to endure. Many people feel as though they are having a heart attack.
OCD features symptoms of anxiety in response to an irrational fear or invasive thoughts that lead to intense anxiety symptoms. To try to mitigate this response, the individual will access repetitive and compulsive behaviors to help manage the anxiety caused by the irrational obsessions. An example is an extreme fear of germs or contamination that results in the person washing their hands 50 times a day.
Social anxiety is features an intense fear of being negatively judged or publicly humiliated, which can lead to serious impairment. This individual may avoid all types of social interaction or social events, even work-related events where their performance might be evaluated. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, as well as negatively impacting career opportunities and relationships.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a disorder that results from an intense traumatic experience, such as a violent assault, the sudden death of a loved one, sexual assault, a natural disaster, combat trauma, or a serious accident or illness. PTSD symptoms include recurring and disturbing memories of the event, vivid nightmares, avoiding people or places that may trigger memories of the event, being easily startled or frightened, and substance abuse.
Those who struggle with a specific phobia express unreasonable fear that impacts their daily lives. This fear may be related to a thing, a place, a person, or a situation. Claustrophobia, for example, is the fear of being in crowded spaces and would inhibit many aspects of life, such as the ability to use public transportation, elevators, or visit crowded venues, for example.
When Signs of Crippling Anxiety Upend Your Life
When the anxiety response is excessive it can become debilitating, affecting your work, relationships, and the ability to function when intense fear becomes paralyzing. In most cases, the anxiety can be managed effectively with therapy and medication in addition to relaxation techniques. Individuals who seek treatment for an anxiety disorder can usually be adequately treated and supported through private practice outpatient services, such as a psychiatrist.
But if symptoms escalate, becoming so severe that quality of life is adversely impacted, then a residential anxiety treatment program may be the best course of action to take. Signs of crippling anxiety include:
- Social withdrawal, isolation
- Weight loss or gain
- Intense irritability
- Chronic headaches, stomachaches, and vague aches and pains
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Substance abuse
- Aggressive behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
The residential setting provides a highly supportive environment where mental health experts can create a customized treatment plan that can offer much more focused and intensive interventions. Residential mental health venues for anxiety treatment can range from a short weekend retreat to an extended stay at a residential facility.
Tools to Recover From the Signs of Crippling Anxiety
Fortunately, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. The treatment protocol for anxiety consists of a combination of pharmacotherapy and evidence-based therapies. Treatment will be tailored individually, based on the intake assessment and prior treatment history, providing targeted therapy for the individual’s specific mental health needs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating all anxiety disorders. CBT involves several strategies that work together to help shift the response to possible triggers or underlying causes, including:
- Identifying possible triggers to panic attacks
- Identifying thoughts and related actions that might lead to panic attacks, and changing them
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness
- Learning coping skills for managing severe anxiety symptoms
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Prolonged exposure therapy is well suited for trauma-related anxiety as it guides the individual to discuss the anxiety-provoking situation and slowly work through it. By thinking about, discussing, and feeling the subject that causes the anxiety, or prolonged exposure to it, the impact of the issue begins to dissipate.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing
EMDR is an adjunctive therapy that is often used alongside the traditional treatment methods for managing anxiety. EMDR is a short-term, 8-step process that uses repetitive bilateral stimuli, such as an object or finger that is moved back and forth while the patient follows it with their eyes. During these sessions, while following the stimulus, the individual discusses the anxiety-provoking situation, past trauma, or issue, which helps reduce its impact over the course of treatment.
Medications for treating panic disorder include benzodiazepines for short-term use, and SSRI and SNRI antidepressants for ongoing pharmacotherapy. Antidepressants might include Cymbalta, Effexor, Paxil, or Lexapro. Also, benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Librium, or Ativan, may be prescribed for situational events or on a short-term basis. Other medications include beta-blockers, Remeron, and Buspar.
There are many effective relaxation techniques to employ as complementary therapies to help improve the overall treatment results. Learning to regulate stress and emotions through holistic or experiential methods can provide daily tools to help manage anxiety as it crops up. These relaxation techniques might include:
- Yoga. There are several different yoga forms to try to help reduce stress and calm the mind. Yoga is the practice of connecting mind and body through postures and movements while also concentrating on breathing.
- Guided meditation. Guided meditation uses imagery and suggestion through audio tracks, leading the individual on a journey to a deeply relaxed state of being. There are apps and YouTube videos available for guided meditation as well.
- Art therapy. Some find that drawing, sketching, or painting provides a peaceful and relaxing outlet for expressing feelings.
- Deep breathing techniques. One of the fastest ways to mitigate anxiety is through deep breathing exercises. These can be done anywhere and are simple. Deeply inhale for count of 5, hold breath for count of 5, then exhale completely through mouth for count of 5…repeat 5 or 6 times.
- Mindfulness training. Reining in distracting or disturbing thoughts and instead focusing on the here and now can help with anxiety. The idea is to acknowledge the moment, the senses, and to accept the experience without judgment.
- Massage therapy. A massage therapist can relieve stress through manipulating soft muscle tissue, which releases toxins and increases blood flow.
- Aromatherapy. Essential oils can offer many health benefits, including relieving stress and anxiety. The oils can be applied topically in a diluted form, or as a vapor using a diffuser. Lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and bergamot oils help anxiety.
- Aerobic exercise. Cardio style exercise helps the body produce serotonin and dopamine, while releasing endorphins, which all help with stress.
- Hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy involves a deep state of relaxation through altering the state of consciousness.
- Gardening therapy. The process of gardening can be very relaxing while also exposing us to vitamin D in sunshine and fresh air.
Taking control of your life again is possible through the use of a multi-modal anxiety management protocol. When signs of crippling anxiety threaten to derail your life, be proactive and seek out a mental health professionals like Medical Concierge Recovery who can help you reclaim your sense of wellbeing.