By Kara Gibbons
Do you feel constant, pervasive anxiety? Have you ever been so totally overwhelmed you felt like you were having a heart attack? You may suffer from anxiety or a panic disorder. Working with healthcare professionals, you can gain control of anxiety and panic, and you may look forward to recovery.
Many psychotherapists recently have abandoned their long-standing belief that mood disorders are lifelong conditions. Although researchers acknowledge patients’ genetic pre-disposition to anxiety and panic disorders, they no longer claim disequilibrium among patients’ neuro-transmitters is inevitably and inescapably a permanent fact of patients’ lives. They do compare mood disorders with diabetes, characterizing them as endocrine imbalances which respond well to medication just as diabetes responds to treatment with insulin. Now, however, clinicians place equal emphasis on mood disorders’ environmental and cognitive causes, and they recommend treatment plans that combine the lowest possible doses of psycho-active medications with regular psychotherapy. Most of all, cutting-edge therapists insist people suffering severe anxiety and panic take charge of their treatment and recovery.
Heidi Stadtler, therapist at Southern California’s Kaiser Permanente, stresses, “If you think of yourself as a victim who suffers from anxiety, your condition will dominate every aspect of your life. If, on the other hand, you establish yourself as the star of your own life, the hero or heroine who overcomes anxiety on the path to success, you will snap your condition into its proper proportions.” Sharing the therapeutic jargon, Stadtler says, “We want anxiety and panic patients to think of themselves as agents in charge of their cures.” Stadtler briefly explains the theory underneath the jargon, detailing how “agent” comes from a family of Latin words that signify “decisive heroic action.” She summarizes, "We want people with anxiety to make bold choices and take significant actions to manage and overcome their symptoms."
Consistent with current theory and best clinical practices, Stadtler says you should start managing your condition and laying the foundations for recovery:
• See your physician. Your primary care physician has diagnostic tools and tests for assessing your condition and its severity. Before psychological screening, however, your doctor will administer blood tests to check for hormone imbalances or thyroid problems which may trigger anxiety. Medicine has yet to perfect blood tests for mood disorders, but scientists have developed extremely sophisticated test instruments for clarifying and helping you gain control of your condition. Your primary care physician will recommend a trustworthy psychotherapist within your insurance network. • Follow your treatment plan. Your physician may start you on a course of anti-anxiety medications. Take the medicines exactly as your physician directs, because overdose or sudden withdrawal can cause seizures or heart problems. You probably have heard the warnings on television: If the medication causes suicidal thoughts, stop taking it and call your doctor right away. “Idiosyncratic reactions” are extremely rare, but when they happen, they often are fatal. As your medication helps you gain control of your moods, you will begin cognitive and behavioral therapy. In your counseling sessions, be honest and hold-back nothing. The more you share, the more you will learn tools for coping and managing. • Monitor and manage your “triggers.” Like most mood disorders, anxiety and panic have environmental as well as organic causes. Often, anxiety symptoms develop as survivals of stressful or traumatic situations in which they actually served as a defense; defense mechanisms frequently outlast the threats to which they originally responded. Your therapist will help you identify and discern among different kinds of triggers so that you can desensitize your system or visualize ways to manage your most common stressors. • Follow a fitness program. “Fitness program” is shorthand for diet and exercise, both of which contribute substantially to managing and recovering from anxiety. Your physician and psychotherapist will instruct you, “Decaffeinate!” Many anxiety and panic patients respond to caffeine as a sedative, and they consume literally gallons of coffee or soft-drinks every week as they use their favorite beverages to medicate themselves. When your doctors say, “Decaffeinate!” follow their instructions, because excessive self-medication can mask symptoms that require serious intervention. Of course, your doctors will cut sugar and salt from your diet. Naturally complementing your healthy diet, you must start a daily exercise program. Repetitive, rhythmic exercise relieves stress, builds endurance and releases lots of endorphins, your natural anti-stress chemicals. Studies show that walking and swimming work best; naturally, yoga also has lots of fans and advocates.
Old-fashioned folks who subscribe to the tough-guy school of mental health will tell you, “It’s all in your head. Deal with it. Rub some dirt on it and get over it.” Yes, it is all in your head, but it is biochemical and behavioral, and it requires treatment. Yes, you should deal with it…in collaboration with your doctors. You may rub dirt on it if it makes you feel better, but you must see your doctor anyway, because you cannot just get over it.
Kara Gibbons is a full-time writer for higher ed blogs and journals nationwide with a focus on online education opportunities. If you're interested in learning to treat patients with anxiety and panic discarders, consider a degree in pharmacy. Several schools offer online degrees in pharmacy, including University of Florida and Creighton University.
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