No one alive has escaped the feeling
of anxiety. It may consist of that isolated worry but most women admit to at least one or two
periods in their lives when their anxiety was overwhelming.
Is anxiety something we should
avoid or get rid of? Not at all. An anxiety response is a perfectly normal
response that we experience when we face the unknown, the difficult, or the unpleasant. I always remind
the women in my midlife support group that if they are not experiencing ANY anxiety, they are probably not making any changes
in their lives or trying anything new. They are maintaining a safe status quo.
When is anxiety the worst? The level of anxiety PRIOR to an event
or activity is always more intense than the level of anxiety when that event or activity actually takes place.
We are nervous before the speech, before the big date, before we make an important decision in our lives.
AVOIDING events or activities because of high levels of ANTICIPATORY anxiety is a mistake. I guarantee
you will feel better once you have followed through.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Most people just feel plain scared. Or they may feel excessively worried to the point where they
are not sleeping or eating. They have ruminating thoughts about the future event or activity.
They are filled with foreboding. They find themselves having a very pessimistic attitude about the
Most anxiety is caused not by situations themselves but by our thoughts and beliefs
about those situations. We think about the upcoming speech and say to ourselves, “I’ll
probably forget what I’m supposed to say”…and magic presto, we are anxious. We worry
that the plane will go down when everyone else on the flight appears to be relaxed and comfortable. We
make ourselves sick over the past or dread the future.
one thing to try? Try my airplane trick. Ask yourself, “Is it going down
NOW?” If it IS, then enjoy…scream, cry, pray, or call home. But if it is
NOT, forbid yourself from thinking about it, divert your attention to something else, and focus on your breathing.
This can apply to any anticipated event…not just flying. The key to handling anxiety is to
STAY IN THE PRESENT. The ONE DAY AT A TIME philosophy is a proven one.
What is a panic attack? When anxiety is very
high, you can have a panic attack. It may last 10 to 20 minutes. You experience a severe
sense of dread, may feel you are going crazy or having a heart attack. Your heart races or beats out of
your chest. Your hands are cold and clammy. You may feel dizzy or nauseous.
Your arms may feel tingly or numb. Your face may be flushed. You may have chest
pains. You feel as though you cannot get enough air and have shortness of breath. Things
don’t look real. You don’t feel like your normal self. The world may be
closing in on you.
Many persons go to the emergency room or call an ambulance when they are having
these symptoms. After a complete examination, they are told that their heart is okay and that “nothing
is the matter”. There IS something the matter…they have had a severe panic attack.
This is the natural response of the brain and body when there is danger. The brain helps the body
get ready to FIGHT or FLEE. Blood goes away from the stomach (the “butterflies”) and the skin
(cold hands) and to the large muscles. Heart rate and breathing rate both increase. As
you breathe faster you begin blowing off too much carbon dioxide and begin feeling like you’re not getting in enough
oxygen. So you breathe even faster, and may this hyperventilation worse and worse.
panic attacks last longer than a few minutes? Yes, they can in some individuals. And
because people get “scared” about the symptoms, they precipitate more and more panic attacks. Once
people understand the symptoms and can label what they are feeling as a “panic attack”, they can begin to do things
to help themselves calm down.
Can medications help with Panic Disorder?
Sometimes tranquilizers are prescribed for very brief use when the symptoms kick in. But this kind
of medication is potentially addictive and should not be taken on a long-term basis. Anti-depressant medication
(especially Paxil and Prozac) are effective also for panic symptoms and there is no risk of addiction.
else can you do? You can place a brown paper bag over your mouth and nose and try to breathe more
slowly—this forces carbon dioxide back into your system and the symptoms decrease. You can learn
general breathing and relaxation techniques (go to the Recommended Reading Self-Help Favorites section at for the books to help with anxiety and phobias).
phobia develops because we try to AVOID what we are feeling anxious about. Instead of facing our
fears, we find ways to sidestep them. With some phobias, like a fear of elevators, we can take the escalator
or the stairs, unless, of course, we work on the 53rd floor! Many people become experts at avoidance.
They may even find themselves completely housebound…but they feel safe. Others venture out
but run home at the first sign of anxiety or panic. This reinforces the fear and the avoidance response.
How do we get over phobias? By facing the fear. By
using relaxation, thought-stopping strategies, and breathing techniques. EXPOSURE therapy is the recommended
treatment. Using techniques to quell the anxiety or panic response, you gradually take back ground that
has been lost, an inch at a time. For example, going over a very small bridge dozens of time (preferably
within a short period of time) until that is comfortable before you start on the next bigger one.