PTSD: Facing the Past to Live in the Now
Fight, Flight, or Freeze? Have you ever experienced any of these scary situations? You slam on the breaks when the car in front of you suddenly stops. You involuntarily...Read More
Posted: September 12th, 2022
Did you know that feeling nervous, worried, and fearful are all normal and even healthy emotions that help us deal with the stressful situations in life? That’s right. It’s our body’s way of helping us survive, whether we’re facing an angry boss, a sudden car crash, or an impossible deadline. The second we perceive a threat to our safety, an elaborate set of hormonal changes and physiological responses quickly kick in.
Much like pressing the gas pedal in a car, our sympathetic nervous system revs up the adrenaline and cortisol to sharpen our senses and alert our bodies for action. That’s why people can suddenly jump out of the way of oncoming traffic before they even have a chance to think about it.1 Fear and worry can also motivate us to get our taxes done on time and study for the big test. And that nervous gut feeling tells us to be well-prepared before giving a speech, stay away from dark alleys, and say no to questionable-looking food. Stress can literally save our lives!
When the threat passes – and it usually does – our parasympathetic nervous system puts on the brakes to help us calm down. Our senses relax, and the adrenaline dissipates. We no longer feel anxious, worried, or afraid. At least, that’s true for MOST of us. But some people’s nervous systems have a hard time slowing down. In other words, the fear, worry, and nervousness just keep going, even after the danger is gone.
Suffering from anxiety disorder means that the everyday stress we normally experience develops into intense fear and worry in situations that are not really threatening. It’s as if the gas pedal gets stuck on high speed, continually pumping stress hormones into our systems for no reason. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a debilitating wear-and-tear on the mind and body.
After a while, this chronic stress can contribute to other health problems, including damage to the following: 1,2
People with anxiety disorders may begin to lose sleep, avoid activities and people, and have trouble functioning at school or work. It can contribute to job and relationship loss, poor health, social isolation, and depression.
At this point, you may be wondering if what you experience can be termed an anxiety disorder. Experts at the National Alliance on Mental Illness say that those who suffer from anxiety disorder regularly experience one or more of the symptoms below:3
Do any of these sound familiar to you? To know if your daily stress is developing into an anxiety disorder, take this simple questionnaire called the GAD Screening Tool.4 This is a good starting point to help determine if you might have an anxiety disorder that needs professional attention. Share the questionnaire with a mental health professional who can discuss a diagnosis and treatment with you based on your unique situation. Every individual varies in their stress responses, so a particular intervention for one person may not be suitable for another.
If you suffer from anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. An estimated 40 million adults (18.1%) in the U.S. are affected by some type of anxiety disorder in their lives. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 milion adults, or 3.1% of the US population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Other types of anxiety disorders include panic disorders (2.7%), social anxiety disorder (6.8%), and specific phobias (8.7%).5
The good news is that anxiety disorder is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Learning how to take our foot off the gas and apply the brakes allows our autonomic nervous systems to slow down the stress response and relax. Overall, we can breathe easier in knowing that anxiety disorder can be overcome by applying one or more of these useful interventions.
Counter the stress response by replacing it with a relaxation response. This brings our mind and body back to a peaceful state by focusing our attention on the present and releasing tension. Learning relaxation techniques can easily be done in the comfort of our own home. Here are a few to get started:
Our bodies work hard to keep us functioning every day. We need to restore ourselves with quality food, rest, and exercise to keep us in tip-top shape. Strengthening our physical health is a powerful way to reverse anxiety.
A strong social support network can reduce our stress levels by finding positive, new friends and improving our current relationships. Either way, the goal is to relieve our anxiety, so we need to make sure our social interactions are uplifting and energizing, not draining. Read more about ways to tap social support and try the tips below:19
Medications prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist do not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve the symptoms. Each person is unique, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or psychiatrist about benefits, risks, and possible side effects before taking any medications. Anti-anxiety drugs most commonly used include:18,20
We should try to seek professional help before anxiety becomes severe – it may be easier to treat early on. Some anxiety is normal, but see a doctor or mental health professional if:
Mind Spa recommends our mental health treatment for individuals battling anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists and medical professionals are dedicated to providing patients with safe and effective mental health treatment that teaches them how to heal their symptoms. Contact Mind Spa today for personalized treatment options.
1 Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July 6). Understanding the stress response. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
2 Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI journal, 16, 1057–1072. https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2017-480
3 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017, December). Anxiety disorders. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
4 Newman, M. G., Zuellig, A. R., Kachin, K. E., Constantino, M. J., Przeworski, A., Erickson, T., & Cashman-McGrath, L. (2002). Preliminary reliability and validity of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire-IV: A revised self-report diagnostic measure of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 33, 215-233. 10.1016/S0005-7894(02)80026-0
5 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts and Statistics. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
6 Yoga with Adriene (2015, December 23). Yoga for anxiety and stress. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJbRpHZr_d0
7 BodyWisdom Yoga, Fitness & Wellness. (2019, December 21). Tai Chi for beginners –best instructional video for learning Tai Chi all 24 Yang Tai Chi poses. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/R8NbQecDygQ
8 Eight Pieces. (2020, December 1). Qigong full 20-minute daily routine. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/cwlvTcWR3Gs
9 Benson-Henry Institute. (n.d.). Guided relaxation exercises. https://bensonhenryinstitute.org/guided-relaxation-exercises/
10 UNC Health Care. (n.d.). Diaphragmatic breathing. https://www.uncmedicalcenter.org/app/files/public/238b14aa-3d39-447f-89f7-ff9a764c6fa0/pdf-medctr-rehab-diaphbreathing.pdf
11 BSU. (n.d.). Square breathing. https://www.bsu.edu/-/media/www/departmentalcontent/counseling%20practicum%20clinic/pdfs%20new%20website/square%20breathing.pdf?la=en&hash=24FD234DA3F4A5E99360ECDE95FC637CA3B54A8D
12 Johns Hopkins Rheumatology. (2018, February 7). Reduce street through progressive muscle relaxation (3 of 3). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClqPtWzozXs
13 Rachel Richards Massage. (2018, January 16). Self massage and meditation for anxiety and stress relief. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-nKMaCxkGM
14 Crichton-Stuart, K. (2018, August 1). What are some foods to ease your anxiety? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322652
15 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Tips to manage anxiety and stress. https://adaa.org/tips
16 Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, October 13). Tips for beating anxiety to get a better night’s sleep. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/tips-for-beating-anxiety-to-get-a-better-nights-sleep
17 Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Exercise for stress and anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety
18 Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361045
19 Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/social-support/art-20044445
20 National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Anxiety disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
21American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is cognitive behavioral therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral.pdf
22 American Psychological Association. (2017, July). What is exposure therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy.pdf
23 Mayo Clinic (2019, December 31). Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273
24 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Buspirone. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Buspirone-(BuSpar)
25 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Benzodiazepine-associated risks. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications/Benzodiazepine-Associated-Risks