If you’ve been feeling excessively anxious, worried or panicky, don’t feel helpless. In many cases, treatment can free you and your family from an anxiety disorder.
More than 25 million Americans — twice as many women as men — suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association. These disorders are a group of conditions characterized by excessive fear. Two of the most common are generalized anxiety disorder (extreme worrying) and panic disorder (recurrent panic attacks).
Understand your symptoms
“A panic attack is a period of intense fear typically marked by bodily changes such as shortness of breath, chest pain, elevated heart rate, dizziness, chills or heat sensations in the body, or upset stomach,” said Dr. Jennifer Michels, a Marshfield Clinic clinical psychologist. “Sometimes there is a clear reason for the attack, but often it comes from out of the blue.”
Excessive worrying that’s difficult to control marks generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, you may be easily fatigued, irritable and restless, along with having a hard time concentrating and sleeping.
Is your disorder affecting others?
“These disorders can be very disruptive to you as well as others, such as at home and work,” Michels said. “If you’re worrying out loud, persistently irritable, or struggling to go places because of fear of a panic attack, it can really affect your ability to live life actively and work well with others.”
The good news is most anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.
Through psychotherapy with a behavioral health professional, you can learn techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and other relaxation tools, as well as ways to change your thought patterns to help you control anxious symptoms.
“Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable psychiatric disorders,” Michels said. “It’s not a multi-year process.”
Many patients see strong improvement in as few as four to 10 sessions, she said.
Don’t let stigma hold you back
Getting started with treatment may be the toughest part. You may feel a stigma around mental health and discomfort about seeking treatment. Don’t, Michels said, because it can help so much.
To make seeking treatment easier, Michels suggests you talk first to your primary care doctor. Describe the symptoms you’re feeling, and ask about a referral to a mental health specialist.