Intense fear, terror, panic or dread my leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained to the point where even normal activities may be avoided or curtailed. You may experience a number of distressing or debilitating symptoms including, but not limited to, tightness in the chest, racing heart, difficulty breathing, trembling hands or limbs, racing thoughts or being in a mental fog, or feeling detached from your body. You may have obsessive thoughts and excessive worry, and self-medicate or engage in other behaviors to calm your nerves. These are all classic symptoms of Anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves excessive anxiety, worry, fear, or unease about events or activities. Its duration, intensity, or frequency is disproportionate to the actual likelihood or impact of the anticipated event. People suffering with generalized anxiety disorder experience difficulty controlling worrisome thoughts which interfere with managing tasks at hand. It is common for persons with this disorder to worry about daily, routine tasks and circumstances such as school, job or career responsibilities, health, finances, household chores, being late for appointments, or question or evaluate the competence of their performance in given situations. The focus of their worries or anxiety may shift from one concern to another, as it is common for such persons to complain about persistent thoughts of worry, anxiety, fear, distress or dread which they feel incapable of shutting off.
Unlike normal worry, persons with generalized anxiety disorder find the excessive nature of their worries of everyday life significantly interfering with healthy, adaptive psychological, emotional and social functioning. Second, worries are more distressing and longer lasting.
Third, this excessive worry may appear to be without cause. Fourth, excessive worry may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as feeling on edge, being easily fatigued, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties or having one’s mind seemingly go blank, trembling, shakiness, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and dizziness, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, and other debilitating symptoms.
Overcoming Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The good news is that Generalized Anxiety and Panic are highly treatable!!! With the expertise of a mental health professional who specializes in treating anxiety disorders, and utilizing an approach that’s based on proven interventions individually tailored to meet the needs of each client, you will be well on the path to Recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Studies have shown that the benefits of CBT may last longer than those of medication, but no single treatment is best for everyone. CBT examines the interconnection between one’s negative thought patterns, feelings and behaviors, and how they maintain, reinforce, and even intensify anxious thoughts and worry associated with generalized anxiety. Learning to replace negative thoughts and beliefs with more realistic, supportive, adaptive thoughts and feelings leads to less generalized worry and anxiety, which translate into increased behavioral mastery and competence in those same or similar situations.
Mindfulness and applied relaxation are other effective treatments which work by focusing one’s awareness of the present moment (vs. future events) by acknowledging and accepting feelings (whether positive or negatively charged) and deactivating bodily sensations. Being mindful makes one aware of what one is feeling and experiencing in the moment while remaining in a calm, accepting state. Applied relaxation focuses on muscle relaxation and visual cues to maintain that state of calm and acceptance. Yoga and other meditative techniques have proven highly effective in reducing or deactivating the “anticipatory anxiety” normally associated with generalized anxiety disorder.
Treatment for Panic and Anxiety Disorders
Panic disorder and other anxiety disorders require specific targeted interventions that are individually tailored to the needs of the client (as no two clients are alike). It is crucial that you receive the guidance, coaching, and expertise of a mental health professional who “specializes” in treating Panic (and other anxiety disorders), as traditional “talk therapy” is ineffective.
Anxiety and panic disorders, if left untreated, not only reinforce continued avoidance of feared situations (for example, in the case where an attack occurred while driving, you may seek alternative routes or stop driving completely).. The anticipation of having another attack may generalize into situations previously not associated with the original fear or panic. These disorders may also lead to Agoraphobia, which is characterized by severe anxiety in situations where an individual feels trapped by their surroundings. Panic sufferers may also experience anticipatory anxiety and generalized anxiety. This disorder can create significant psychological, emotional, and physical distress, as well as avoidance of opportunities personal and professional growth, relationships, and happiness.
The following approaches are evidence-based and proven as most effective for the relief of Panic and Anxiety. They include:
1. Psychoeducational into the nature, cause, and biological basis of Panic on Anxiety.
2. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy which is based on the principle that the only way to overcome Panic is by guided, gradual exposure to the feared event or trigger. While avoidance maintains and increases Panic and often generalizes to new situations, facing your fear eventually desensitizes you to the feared event by reducing the intensity of symptoms and with continued practice can extinguish them all together.
3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on challenging (or disputing) negative thoughts and core beliefs that fuel panic and anxieties. Breaking the vicious cycle between maladaptive thoughts and beliefs leads to increased mastery over adaptive behaviors which support healthy functioning.
4. Psychodynamic Therapy examines Panic in the context of historical events and relationships that may have played a direct or indirect role in the development of the disorder.
5. Self-regulation addresses emotional and behavioral activation which sustains and reinforces anxiety, fear, and Panic. Strategies include, but are not limited to, mindfulness techniques, meditation and visual imagery, corrective breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
By Irving Schattner, LCSW