Getting a Grip on Anxiety

Don't Panic!

Posted Jun 15, 2013

Have I got this right? Fear is a rational emotion, whereas panic and anxiety are not. But wait. Aren't panic and anxiety the same? "Anxiety" may sound more scientific than "panic," from the Greek god Pan, who liked to frighten sheep.  

Whatever you call it, the British would say that it's merely a matter of pulling yourself together and getting on with it. Maybe they know something we don't.  During WW II and the height of the Blitz that nearly destroyed London, their motto was "Keep Calm and Carry On," and that's what they did. 

All that aside, what causes anxiety? At what point should you see a doctor? The answers to these questions, posed by a woman in a letter to the Mayo Clinic, I thought were worth noting.

As for what causes it, the answer was that it can stem from a combination of factors -- and not necessarily the same ones every time -- such as an individual's genetic makeup, plus circumstances and/or personal experience. Nature and environment, in other words. That makes sense. But the next point surprised me:  It is not always necessary to identify the cause, or trigger, for it to be successfully treated. 

When should you see a doctor? The answer to that was less complicated and even obvious. If the feeling is interfering with your daily life, that's when you should seek help. 

I was not aware that there are several types of anxiety disorder. Some have specific triggers and symptoms. Obsessive-compulsiveness, for example, and some kinds of phobias. Ongoing anxiety, however, may come from a wide variety of sources and is known as generalized anxiety disorder

Uncertainty plays a big part, but isn't that also a part of life? Who knows exactly how things are going to turn out? Most of us simply trust to luck and go ahead, but it may be impossible for people with this kind of disorder to assume that everything will be all right. Instead, they become anxious about it. 

Anxiety disorders are common but often go untreated, which is unfortunate, says the Mayo Clinic, because they can be treated effectively, even without identifying the trigger, or what brings on the feeling of anxiety at any given moment. If I understand correctly, recognizing an underlying, basic fear is the main thing.  

Anxious people get caught up in their own scary thoughts -- and start asking "what if" questions. (What if the plane crashes, the boat sinks, the train derails?) Part of dealing with these thoughts is to encourage people to face and accept them, even though they are scary. That sounds like a tall order to me, but it is claimed that in behavior therapy, with trained professionals, those thoughts predictably lose their power, become less frightening and eventually fade away. 

Another way that therapy helps is to relieve the feeling of hopelessness in the anxious person, the conviction that there is nothing he or she can do that will make a difference. This, they acknowledge, is easier said than done, and most often than not requires professional help to accomplish. 

If all else fails, there is medication. That, of course, requires an appointment with a physician, who can either help directly or put the patient in touch with another professional who can.

And here is something else that I learned recently: even animals suffer anxiety! The details are heartbreaking, but severely abused or otherwise traumatized animals can be so consumed with fear that it destroys their quality of life. Some can be saved with patient, kind and caring therapy, but others cannot.

About the Author

E. E. Smith is a playwright and book author. Her new series of murder mysteries debuted in 2013. The first is titled Death by Misadventure. 

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