"I'm going crazy....."
"I feel like I’m losing control....."
"I can’t breathe....."
"I must be having a heart attack....."
It comes on suddenly. You feel wave after wave of fear. Your stomach is in knots. Your heart is pounding so loudly you think it will burst from your chest. Your arms are tingling. You're nauseous, sweating, trembling and there is a pain in your chest that is starting to shoot down your legs. You became so afraid you can't catch your breath. What is happening? Are you having a heart attack? Are you dying?
Panic attacks are very real, very unpleasant and emotionally devastating. Many people who experience a panic attack go immediately to a hospital emergency room, prepared to hear the very worst possible news about their health.
Panic attacks are a dramatic example of one of a number of general anxiety disorders. These ailments are the most common of all the mental health disorders.
All of us know what it's like to feel anxious -- your heart pounding as strangers approach on a dark street, the butterflies in your stomach before a big date and the stress you feel when your spouse is angry. Anxiety awakens you to action. It prepares you for a threatening situation. It makes you study harder for that test and keeps you on your toes in a meeting. In general, it helps you cope and manage. Unfortunately, though, when it becomes a disorder, this normally helpful emotion can do just the opposite -- it can keep you from coping and can disrupt your daily life. A major consequence of anxiety is the dumping of excess acid into your tissues and organs.
I should point out that there is another important correlation between acidosis and anxiety. While acidosis can result in anxiety disorders, the opposite is also true. Severe acidosis from any cause may result in: shortness of breath, anxiety, confusion or memory loss. This will cause a feedback loop that is hard to escape from. Acidosis can cause anxiety disorders that create more acidosis which in turn makes the anxiety disorders even worse.
Just as headaches are not caused by a lack of aspirin, anxiety disorders are not caused by lack of benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety, hypnotics, sedatives or tranquilizers.
Anxiety disorders will make you feel anxious most of the time, without any apparent reason. Or the anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that to avoid them you may stop some everyday activities. Or you may have occasional bouts of anxiety so intense they horrify and immobilize you. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting both children and adults.
- Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, personality, brain chemistry, toxic poisoning, life-style, diet and the acid/alkaline balance.
- An estimated 25 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is a relatively common anxiety problem, affecting 3-4% of the population. It is characterized by extreme, unrealistic worry that lasts six months or more; in adults, the anxiety may focus on issues such as health, money or career. In addition to chronic worry, GAD symptoms include trembling, muscular aches, insomnia, abdominal upsets, dizziness and irritability. Basically, it turns daily life into a state of worry, apprehension and fear.
Generalized anxiety usually does not cause people to avoid situations. It's the constant thinking, thinking, thinking and inability to shut the mind off that incapacitates the person. Feelings of worry, dread and a loss of interest in life are common.
This emotional fear and worry can be quite strong. If a loved one is a few minutes late, the person with GAD fears the very worst -- something's terribly wrong, there's been an accident, the paramedics are taking the person to the hospital and his injuries are just too critical to resuscitate him....."Oh, my God!.....WHAT SHOULD I DO?" Thoughts of fear and anxiety rush in from these feelings, and the vicious cycle of anxiety and depression runs wild.
It is also common, for people with generalized anxiety to experience other problems, such as a quickness to startle, a lack of ability to fully relax and the tendency to be in a state of constant motion. It is difficult for some people with generalized anxiety to settle down enough to have a quiet, reflective time where they can calm down, relax, and feel some peace and tranquility.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder most often affects children between the ages of six and eleven. It is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety over a variety of things including:
- Performance in sports
- Family issues
The affected child cannot control his/her worry and it interferes with normal activities. Physical symptoms of GAD include:
- Fatigue/inability to sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
Children with GAD tend to be very hard on themselves, redoing tasks repeatedly and striving for perfection. They may also seek regular approval or encouragement from others.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Individuals with OCD are plagued by unrelenting, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears; typical obsessions include worry about being contaminated or fears of behaving improperly or acting violently. The obsessions may lead an individual to perform a ritual or routine (compulsions) such as washing hands, repeating phrases or hoarding to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsession.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions which the sufferer usually recognizes as being excessive or unreasonable. Obsessions are recurring thoughts or impulses that are intrusive or inappropriate and cause the sufferer anxiety. Some common obsessions are:
- Fear of coming into contact with dirt, germs or anything unclean.
- Persistent doubts about common tasks like whether or not one has locked the door, turned off the TV or stove or turned on the answering machine.
- An excessive need for orderliness.
- Aggressive impulses or thoughts, for example, being overcome with the urge to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or rituals performed by the OCD sufferer. Performance of these rituals neutralize the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts - relief is only temporary. Compulsions are incorporated into the person's daily routine and are not always directly related to the obsessive thought. For example, a person who has aggressive thoughts may count floor tiles in an effort to control the thought. Some of the most common compulsions are:
- Cleaning. Sufferers concerned with germs and contamination tend to clean constantly, either repeatedly washing their hands, showering or constantly cleaning their home.
- Checking. Individuals may check several or even hundreds of times to make sure that stoves are turned off and doors are locked.
- Repeating. Some repeat a name, phrase or action over and over.
- Slowness. Some individuals may take an excessively slow and methodical approach to daily activities. They may spend hours organizing and arranging objects.
- Hoarding. Hoarders are unable to throw away useless items, such as old newspapers, junk mail, even broken appliances. Sometimes the hoarding reaches the point that whole rooms are filled with saved items.
Onset of OCD is usually gradual and most often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Unlike adults, children with OCD do not realize that their obsessions and compulsions are excessive.
Over four million Americans suffer from panic attacks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People with panic disorder suffer severe attacks of panic which may make them feel like they are having a heart attack or are going crazy for no apparent reason. Symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, sweating, trembling, tingling sensations, feeling of choking, fear of dying, fear of losing control and feelings of unreality. Panic disorder often occurs with agoraphobia, in which people are afraid of having a panic attack in a place from which escape would be difficult, so they avoid these places.
Because the symptoms of panic are very real, a panic attack is one of the worst and most traumatizing experiences a person can have. Some people become so frightened of having additional panic attacks, especially in public, that they withdraw to their "safe zones" - usually their homes - and very rarely leave them. This condition is known as agoraphobia. It is the fear of having further panic attacks that keeps them bound close to home.
A panic attack is defined as the abrupt onset of an episode of intense fear or discomfort, which peaks in approximately 10 minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- A feeling of imminent danger or doom.
- The need to escape
- Palpitations, sweating and trembling
- Shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
- A feeling of choking
- Chest pains or a "heaviness" in the chest
- Fear of a stroke that will lead to disability
- Nausea or abdominal discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- A sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
- A fear of losing control or "going crazy"
- A fear of dying
- Tingling sensations
- Chills or hot flushes
There are three types of panic attacks:
- Unexpected - the attack "comes out of the blue" without warning and for no discernable reason.
- Situational - situations in which an individual always has an attack, for example, upon entering a tunnel.
- Situational Predisposed - situations in which an individual is likely to have a panic attack, but does not always have one. An example of this would be an individual who sometimes has attacks while driving.
A panic attack can only be described as a total emotional nightmare. Some people with panic feel like they are in an escalating cycle of catastrophe and doom and that something bad is going to happen to them "right now at this very moment."
Others feel as if they are having a heart attack as their heart races. The heart palpitations convince them that they are about to have an attack. Other people feel that they are going to "lose control" of themselves and will do something embarrassing in front of other people. Others breathe so quickly, gasping for air, that they hyperventilate and feel like they will suffocate from lack of oxygen.
Agoraphobia often, but not always, coincides with Panic Disorder. Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of having a panic attack in a place from which escape is difficult. Many sufferers refuse to leave their homes, often for years at a time. Others develop a fixed route, or territory, from which they cannot deviate, for example the route between home and work. It becomes impossible for these people to travel beyond what they consider to be their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.
The age of onset of Panic Disorder varies from late adolescence to mid-thirties. Relatively few suffer from the disorder in childhood. Sadly, many people do not seek help for panic attacks, agoraphobia and anxiety-related difficulties.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can follow an exposure to a traumatic event such as a sexual or physical assault, witnessing a death, the unexpected death of a loved one or natural disaster. This is not a disorder to be associated solely with military personnel, as it has been in the past. It has been shown that exposure to traumas such as a serious accident, a natural disaster or criminal assault can result in PTSD. When the aftermath of a traumatic experience interferes with normal functioning, the person may be suffering from PTSD. The increasing stress of living in the 21st century, on both a global and personal level, has been sufficient to considerably elevate the numbers of people who suffer from PTSD.
PTSD can occur at any age, from childhood to old age and traumatic stress can be cumulative over a lifetime. Responses to trauma include feelings of intense fear, helplessness and/or horror.
There are three types of generally recognized triggers:
- Threatened death or serious injury to one's person.
- Learning about the death, near death or serious injury of a family member or close friend.
- Witnessing the death, near death or serious injury of another person.
Symptoms of PTSD are:
- Re-experiencing the event, which can take the form of intrusive thoughts and recollections (flashbacks) or recurrent dreams.
- Avoidance behavior in which the sufferer avoids activities, situations, people and/or conversations which he/she associates with the trauma.
- A general numbness and loss of interest in surroundings; this can also present as detachment.
- Hypersensitivity, including: inability to sleep, anxious feelings, overactive startle response, hypervigilance, irritability and outbursts of anger.
PTSD can occur at any age, although it is less frequent in the elderly. Young children who have suffered a trauma may have dreams of the event, which within a few weeks, turn into general nightmares. Children will often relive the event through play. They may also exhibit physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.
Symptoms usually begin within three months of a trauma, although there can be a delayed onset and six months can pass between trauma and the appearance of symptoms. In some cases years can pass before symptoms appear, in this case the symptoms are often triggered by the anniversary of the trauma, or with the experience of another traumatic event. Symptoms may vary in frequency and intensity over time.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the third largest psychological problem in the United States today. It is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. This intense anxiety may lead to avoidance behavior. Social Phobia is characterized by an intense fear of situations, usually social or performance situations, where embarrassment may occur.
A woman hates to stand in any lineup because she's afraid that everyone is watching her. A man finds it difficult to walk down the street because he's self-conscious and feels that people are watching him from their windows. Another man hates to go to work because a meeting is scheduled the next day. Just the thought of speaking in front of co-workers raises his anxiety. Still another person sits in front of the telephone and agonizes because she's afraid to pick up the receiver and make a call. She feels rejected even before she makes the call. This is the life of the Social Phobic.
Individuals with the disorder are acutely aware of the physical signs of their anxiety and fear that others will notice, judge them, and think poorly of them. This fear often results in extreme anxiety in anticipation of an activity - a panic attack - when faced with an activity or in the avoidance of an activity altogether. Adults usually recognize that their fears are unfounded or excessive, but suffer them nonetheless.
Symptoms of Social Phobia manifest themselves physically and may include palpitations, tremors, sweating, diarrhea, confusion and blushing. Blushing when in social situations is particularly common and often causes the sufferer further embarrassment.
People with Social Phobia tend to be sensitive to criticism and rejection, have difficulty asserting themselves and suffer from low self-esteem. The most common fears associated with the disorder are a fear of speaking in public or to strangers, a fear of meeting new people and fear of performing (activities that may potentially be embarrassing), such as writing, eating or drinking in public. Sufferers usually fear more than one type of social setting.
Onset of the disorder is usually in mid to late adolescence, but children have also been diagnosed with Social Phobia. Children with the disorder are prone to excessive shyness, clinging behavior, tantrums and even mutism. There is usually a marked decline in school performance, and the child will often try to avoid going to school or taking part in age-appropriate social activities. Their fears are centered on peer settings rather than social activities involving adults, with whom they may feel more comfortable.
People with specific phobias suffer from an intense fear reaction to a specific object or situation (such as heights, spiders, dogs or clowns). The level of fear is usually inappropriate to the situation and is recognized by the sufferer as being irrational. This inordinate fear can lead to the avoidance of common, everyday situations. Phobias that begin in childhood usually disappear as the individual grows older. Fear of certain types of animals is the most common Specific Phobia. The disorder can be associated with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.
Medical science focuses on the physical aspects of anxiety disorder and panic attacks, developing drug treatments to counteract brain chemical imbalances and symptoms. But in anxiety disorders, phobias, panic attacks, OCD or PTSD, the reactions that happen in the brain are simply another way that your body is talking to you. Listen to what it is saying!
Anxiety disorders and panic attacks aren't about mental illness; they're about restoring and maintaining our overall health.
More and more of you are starting to think outside the box. People are starting to look at their overall health and fitness and realizing that we cannot forget the body's essential needs such as proper nutrition, hydration and detoxification.
Your body needs therapeutic water, healthy food, enzymes, essential fatty acids and vitamins to function in a balanced way. Research, as well as my 25 years of clinical experiance, has shown that without these raw materials there is no foundation on which to build vital physical or mental health. Don't be a victim; you cannot fool your body into good health. Please read our articles: "Reclaim Your Inner Terrain" and "Spoiled Rotten."
You don't have to live a life full of panic and anxiety. There are drug and psycho-babble free alternatives, regardless of whether you experience a mild anxiety disorder, phobias or an acute anxiety disorder. Start enjoying life, your children, your family and friends. Take control! Do the things that you want to do and start the path to an anxiety disorder-free life.
Wishing you the best in health,
The Wolfe Clinic