Being anxious is not a bad thing. In moderation, anxiety keeps us alert and focused. When anxiety goes from normal to all consuming is we need to take action.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld jokes, “People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Jane Friedman often repeats that joke when she gives a lecture at her local Toastmaster’s meeting. “It tends to relax some of our new members,” she explains. “Most people are nervous when they get up to speak for the first or one-hundred-and-first time. We learn to use those jitters to our advantage.”
That’s a good example of stress. Anxiety, however, pushes us beyond the ability to cope. It can affect our personal relationships, our work, and social lives to the point of where we can’t function properly. That’s when anxiety goes into the realm of a disorder and when we need help.
Amy Walters remembers the first time she had an anxiety attack. The 31-year-old mom of three was at her local supermarket. “I felt like I was having a heart attack,” she said. “My chest hurt and my stomach ached. I broke out into a sweat and fell to the floor. I was so scared that I couldn’t catch my breath.”
Walters wound up at her local hospital. A heart attack was ruled out. Her doctor told her she had experienced a panic attack. She had been battling some difficulties in her personal life and “cumulatively it all blended together, making me feel ill,” she said.
Her doctor prescribed a mild anti-anxiety medication. “I’ve had a few episodes, but none as bad as the last one,” she said. After that, she started taking Prozac for her anxiety.
Barbara Moss wasn’t as fortunate. Her anxiety took hold of her to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed. She missed work and was fired. “My husband got me to the doctor,” she said. “I now take Prozac and am able to handle my anxiety.”
Signs of an anxiety attack
- You’re constantly worried to the point where it’s overwhelming.
- You are so consumed with anxiety that you can’t work or focus on day-to-day activities.
- You have irrational thoughts that you can’t shake.
- You believe something bad is going to happen.
- Your anxiety takes hold of you to the point that you avoid interactions with others and just want to stay in bed all day.
- Your heart pounds, you sweat excessively, and have shortness of breath.
- You have trouble sleeping and feel tense or irritable.
- Your stomach is upset or you experience headaches or dizziness.
- You have frequent diarrhea.
- You feel depressed.
Anxiety attacks, also called panic attacks, usually occur suddenly and without warning. The attacks can last between 10 and 30 minutes. Even a short episode can be frightening.
The good news is that anxiety attacks can be treated successfully. The first step is talking to your doctor. Get a checkup and talk about why you feel anxious. If you don’t know, explain that, too.
If you go to a general practitioner, you may want to get a recommendation for a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication to manage your anxiety attacks. Prozac is often used to treat anxiety. It’s part of a group of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are typically used as antidepressants for the treatment of major depressive disorders and anxiety attacks.
Your therapist may also recommend stress management skills, such as meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. Walking, running, or other aerobic exercises can also be used as part of your treatment. Aerobic exercise relieves stress.
You may be asked to cut down on your caffeine intake and alcohol because both can increase anxiety. Getting a good night’s sleep by going to bed at the same time every night can be helpful, too.
March 16, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN