Anxiety is an emotional and adaptive response that we all have experienced in our lives. For example, in the moments before an exam, after a labor dispute, or when we make an important decision that can significantly affect our lives.
However, some people suffer from different anxiety disorders which cause great discomfort.
Questions and Answers About Anxiety
Sometimes many people can have misconceptions about this adaptive response and the different anxiety disorders that exist.
Therefore, in the following lines We present a series of questions and answers which aim to clarify certain doubts that can arise around this phenomenon.
1. What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural defense mechanism that arises in response to a threat. It is a system that generates adaptive reactions essential for human beings. Depending on the nature and content of the thoughts that the threat arouses, anxiety activates more or less protective systems and manifests itself in a more or less strong way.
The response that anxiety generates does not depend so much on the type of threat as on how we perceive it. For this reason, this system is functional when the protective mechanisms that it activates are proportional to the danger.
2. What types of anxiety disorders do you have?
Although symptoms of anxiety disorders are often similar, according to the Statistical Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), there are different anxiety disorders. Among them, it is possible to highlight: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), specific phobic disorders, agoraphobia, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, the disorder generalized anxiety.
- You can read more about these disorders in our article: “The 7 Types of Anxiety (Causes and Symptoms)”
3. What are phobias?
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that usually have their origin in a traumatic experience.As a person associates a phobic stimulus with a negative response. Phobic people feel great fear towards an object, a situation and, in other words, a phobic stimulus. This discomfort or anxiety causes the phobic person to go shopping to avoid this stimulus which causes him a reaction of fear or anxiety.
4. What is a panic attack?
The panic attack (or anxiety attack) is precisely the result of the proliferation of thoughts that alert to a danger and which generate fear, usually accompanied by a feeling of high risk or imminent catastrophe. It starts suddenly and often reaches its peak in under 20 minutes.
The thoughts that play out in such episodes share a fatalistic character (“the worst that can happen is …”, “everything is a problem”, “Nothing seems like a good option”, etc.). They usually all appear automatically. The person is not very aware of their origin or the level of force and intrusion.
The result is a cocktail of emotions that further alert the individual and, therefore, trigger the symptoms related to overactivation of the body. The respiratory rate and heart rate are the main protagonists.
5. What role does breathing play in a panic attack?
We get energy through breathing (the nutrients we get from food need oxygen to be turned into energy).
When we perceive a threat, we speed up our breathing and, when inhalingWe use extra musculature to calm our urges to “get some fresh air”. All of this results in a higher energy cost.
If the feeling of threat does not decrease and thoughts grow, the respiratory rate increases and is maintained. The result is breathing that is above our body’s needs, excessive breathing that needs a lot of energy. This is what we call hyperventilation.
6. Why is it so hard to breathe when we are hyperventilating?
When we hyperventilate, we charge our lungs with O2 and create an imbalance: O2 levels are increasing but CO2 levels are decreasing. In order to rebalance gas, the body prevents the individual from taking in O2. For this reason, during an anxiety attack, the person is short of breath and has difficulty breathing.
7. And when we play sports, don’t we also speed up breathing?
Yes. The difference is that when we play sports the body needs more energy and we increase the breathing rate to get more O2. This oxygen, when used, produces a large amount of CO2. Therefore, there is no imbalance between the two gases. For this reason, when we exercise, we do not have the same symptoms as when we hyperventilate due to anxiety.
8. Why do some people who have a panic attack feel like they can die?
The acceleration of the respiratory rate and, consequently, of the totality of the metabolism, leads the individual towards a borderline physical state. The mismatch between gases (in particular, the decrease in the level of CO2 in the blood) produces another phenomenon: the alteration of pH.
This alteration in pH is responsible for a whole set of sensations that arouse terror: suffocation, increased heart rate, dizziness, tremors, muscle spasms in the legs, torso, arms and even the muscles of the face, sweating, heat, etc. etc.
Ignorance of what a panic attack is, coupled with such visible physical symptoms, leads the person to think that they are dealing with a vascular image (heart attack for example) and not with a problem of psychological origin. .
9. What guidelines can help us control a panic attack?
The first essential point is to slow down breathing. To do this, it is important to try to take in air through the nose (to restrict the entry of O2) and to expel it through the mouth. As the respiratory rate decreases, the inhales and exhales are longer (the person begins to feel that they can fill the lungs). Likewise, stopping, stopping talking and finding a “comfortable” space to rest are three essential elements.
At the same time, breathing visualization techniques work as a method of distraction. Staining the gas path by differentiating the O2 input (for example, with the color blue) and the output of CO2 (for example, with the color red) is a way to focus even more attention on the breathing and avoid the appearance of alerts.
10. What type of work is done from psychotherapy?
We first performed a psychoeducational task that highlights the mechanism of anxiety and panic attack. Understanding the “whys” is the first point to control their appearance..
As we have explained, the anxiety attack is preceded by a whole series of more or less automatic and more or less unconscious negative thoughts. From psychotherapy, we have done work to learn to detect these thoughts, to locate them (in what situations), as well as to know their essence and content (what is their meaning).
The identification of automatic thought is that which provides the basic knowledge to empower the individual. At the same time, the construction of new avenues of reflection which envisage new solutions and facilitate the resolution of conflicts, will be the training which will widen the range of resources and increase its management capacity.
11. What types of psychotherapy are useful for treating anxiety?
One of the most widely used therapies for the treatment of anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be very effective in a lot of research. It works particularly well for the treatment of phobic disorders such as claustrophobia. In addition, in recent times, third generation therapies such as mindfulness or acceptance and engagement therapy have been shown to be very effective.
12. Is it okay to take medication to treat anxiety?
Certain drugs are indicated for the treatment of anxiety in severe cases; But, they should not be considered the only treatment option, But in combination with psychotherapy. In addition, anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants should never be taken without specialist supervision.
13. How do I stop taking anxiety medications?
Many people can stop taking anxiety medications or antidepressants without noticing withdrawal symptoms, especially if they are doing so under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. Other people, on the other hand, may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. If you experience any symptoms that interfere with your ability to carry out your daily activities, you should talk to your doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist and explain your case to them.