Anxiety 101

What is an anxiety disorder?   Although anxiety in and of itself is a normal reaction to everyday stress and is actually useful in assisting us in avoiding dangerous situations, it can become an overwhelming feeling of doom.  Anxiety can vary in severity and can range from a mild uneasiness to a full-blown panic attack.  People with anxiety disorders have excessive levels of anxiety that significantly interfere with day-to-day living.*( Mental Health First Aid Canada,

  Anxiety disorder is more severe or intense, is long lasting, interferes with the person’s ability to function and occurs when a person is not in a state of danger. The impact of anxiety is often underestimated and not recognized or fully understood.  It can start at any age, but often begins with ‘shy’ children and teens or in early adulthood.  There can be emotional triggers for anxiety such as a death of a loved one or a traumatic event.

In an environment where there are high levels of stress, an anxiety disorder can often become debilitating.   Support, encouragement and understanding can go a long way for someone dealing with her emotions.

I’ve worked with young people who suffer from anxiety and it engulfs the person completely.  They feel overwhelmed, unable to complete the simplest task and often have difficulty breathing.  They have fears they are going ‘mad’ and are unable to concentrate.  I know when my daughter realized she was dealing with anxiety, she told me she knew what she was feeling was irrational, but she was unable to stop it.  The feeling came upon her without warning and it embodied her so completely, she felt helpless in staving off its effects.  Her biggest coping mechanism at the time was retreating from the situation and hiding.

There are many types of Anxiety Disorders that I will list here, but you can find further information regarding them here at (Canadian Mental Health Association).  They are:  Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attack, Agoraphobia (the fear of having a panic attack in a situation where help may not be available and where the person may become embarrassed or escape is difficult), Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia, Specific Phobia Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD) Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Here are a few tips on dealing with someone having a panic attack.  The attack itself is not only scary for the person having one, but also for the person(s) witnessing it.  It’s hard to tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack as many of the signs and symptoms are the same.  They include: shortness of breath, intense fear, palpitations, sweating, trembling, chest pain or discomfort, nausea, dizziness, fear of dying and numbness. Always error on the side of caution even if the person has a history of panic attacks and call 911.   While you are waiting for emergency services, here are some points:

*move the person to a quieter, private location and have her sit down

* Encourage slow, relaxed breathing in unison with your own

* Be a good listener, without judging.  Remain calm

* Explain to the person she MAY be having a panic attack and not something life threatening.

* Assure the person that someone will stay with her to keep her safe until the attack stops or medical help arrives.

Reaching out and staying positive are always good best practices when dealing with someone who is experiencing stress.  Knowledge, awareness and compassion humanize the experience and maintains an atmosphere of calmness.   Thanks for reading.

Some resources:  (Canadian Mental Health Association)   (the World Health Organization, look in ‘Health Topics’ under ‘M’ for Mental Health and Mental Disorders)

And for my American friends:

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