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Categories > Mental and Emotional Health > Anxiety and panic attacks

Getting a grip on anxiety
Understanding the problem
Gaining control
Going to extremes

Could you have a problem?
Could you have a problem?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, talk to your doctor.

  • Have you been troubled by excessive worry, occurring more days than not, for at least six months?
  • Do you have trouble concentrating?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Do you have a fear of losing control?
  • Does your anxiety interfere with your work or social life?
  • Do you feel shortness of breath, palpitations or shaking while at rest?
  • Do you use alcohol, food or medication to help you calm down?
  • Susan always had a fear of elevators. For most of her life, the phobia didn’t interfere with her daily routine. When she went to the mall, for example, she’d simply take the stairs or the escalator to travel to different floors. But lately, she’d found herself avoiding places where elevators might be her only option. The anxiety had become so severe that Susan often chose to stay home rather than face her fear.

    Understanding the problem

    Although Susan’s problem is extreme, many others suffer minor anxieties that disrupt their lives in more subtle ways. Fear of running into an old friend, for example, may cause a person to turn down a social engagement.

    What’s more, unnecessary worry about money, family or work—even when there are no signs of a problem—can affect a person’s health. Besides triggering fatigue, trembling, nausea, headache or muscle tension, prolonged anxiety can raise blood pressure, accelerate heart rate and cause a host of other ailments such as insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome.

    Gaining control

    If you find yourself “sweating the small stuff” on a daily basis, these steps may help:

    • Catch yourself in the act of worrying. If you tend to imagine a lot of “what-if” scenarios regarding situations that should be enjoyable (“What if it rains on my granddaughter’s wedding day?”), you probably worry too much. Instead, for every one of your “worst-case scenarios,” envision a “best-case” scenario as well. Chances are, the reality will lie somewhere in between.
    • Address issues as they arise instead of letting them fester. Let’s say cousin Mark comments on your second helping of cheesecake at a family dinner. Take him aside as soon as you can and explain that his comment hurt your feelings.
    • Do a reality check. Some things just aren’t that important. If you get to your lunch date 10 minutes late, your friends won’t have started eating without you. And even if they do, so what? The bottom line: If it’s not a problem, let it go.

    Going to extremes

    When anxiety takes over a person’s life, as in Susan’s case, therapy may be in order. If you feel you need help, see your doctor. Be prepared to describe your feelings of worry and tension and remember to discuss any physical symptoms, too, such as insomnia or headaches.

    Treatments for anxiety disorders include medication and behavior modification, in which a person is gradually exposed to the anxiety-provoking object or situation. Deep-breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques can also help.