'Tis the Season to Be Anxious
In today’s fast-paced, over-stimulated environment, stress is a given. However, anxiety, panic attacks and depression are not. These ailments are way more than “stress gone wild,” and require special care, and possibly medical attention, to keep them at bay.
What can I do if anxiety is hindering my daily life?
Lifestyle changes can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Effective techniques to reduce anxiety are: eating a healthy diet, limiting caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake, getting enough sleep, making time for your hobbies and talking to a friend or professional. We have long known these habits work.
I recommend three additional strategies that also work: Practice deep breathing. When anxious, we take short, fast breaths (hyperventilate) that deliver too much oxygen to our bodies. Hyperventilating explains our physical symptoms of anxiety: cold, sweaty hands, a rapid heartbeat. To counter those symptoms take deliberate deep, slow breaths.
Secondly, exercise regularly, even if for just a few minutes. Exercise releases endorphins that improve our mood quickly and continue to work even after the exercise is done. Exercise benefits don’t require complicated regimes; just a simple effort to walk around more or standing regularly at work can help.
Finally, learning to be mindful has become a popular approach to controlling anxiety that is widely used in psychotherapy. Mindful techniques include yoga, tai chi and Pilates. Join a class!
Dr. Tippy Amick has a doctorate degree in Human Services and Studies and has been on the faculty at Florida State University for more than 20 years. She recently moved to Hilton Head and opened a new company: The Tippy Amick Training Company, specializing in communication, team building and leadership development. For more information: www.tippyamick.com or 850-264-8753.
Panic and anxiety attacks are a surge of energy. In the midst of an attack, try to allow the energy to flow through you, without fighting it. Tell it, “You can flow through but you can’t stay!”
What’s the difference in an antidepressant and a tranquilizer like Xanax?
There are several classes of antidepressants: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Atypical Antidepressants, Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs).
The most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants is the SSRIs. Among the SSRIs, the two most common are Celexa (citalopram) and Zoloft (sertraline). These help increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, which in turn, is believed to help regulate mood. They may also improve energy levels and feelings of well-being. It may take up to 4 weeks to feel the full benefits of these medications.
Xanax (alprazolam) is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. It is commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders, panic disorders and anxiety caused by depression. It works by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is believed to quickly help produce a calming and relaxing effect on the nervous system and brain, which can help to subside the often-terrifying symptoms of an attack.
Dr. Wilhemina Fry, PharmD, Stephens Compounding Pharmacy | 843.686.3040 55 Mathews Drive, Suite 215 Hilton Head Island, SC | Located in the Public Storage shopping plaza (In the same plaza as Bike Doctor, Jiva Yoga, and Good Health Nutrition).
Having a “happy distraction” at the ready can help calm an attack. Keep your favorite magazine or book nearby. Look at photos that take you to good memories. Watch funny YouTube’s on your phone. (It’s hard to laugh and have a panic attack at the same time.) Play your favorite song. (We recommend, “This is My Fight Song” by Rachel Platten) Think of things/people who make you happy. Always have something to look forward to and let your mind wander there. Sometimes taking focus off the terror of the attack will make it subside quicker.
How do panic attacks present themselves, and how do I know if I am having a panic attack or another medical issue (like a heart attack)?
Most people with panic attacks experience a variety of symptoms, including:
> A racing heart
> Shortness of breath
> Breaking out in a sweat
> Feeling weak, faint or dizzy
> A sense of impending doom or death
> Chest pain
> Feeling a loss of control
Sometimes there’s an identifiable precipitating factor that brings on a panic attack, but not always. I experienced one some 15 years ago while snorkeling in the Turks and Caicos. I couldn’t have been more relaxed, but all of a sudden, my heart started racing, and I couldn’t breathe. It went away after about five minutes once I got back to the beach. I haven’t had one since.
It’s not known what causes panic attacks. While severe stress can play a role, researchers now believe environmental stimuli, like a smell, can trigger an episode without warning.
Just as the one I experienced, a panic attack is usually short-lived. If your symptoms persist more than 10 minutes, you could be having a heart attack and need to get to an ER immediately. Don’t feel embarrassed if it turns out you were having a panic attack. It’s better to get checked by a physician than to wait it out and suffer unnecessary damage to your heart.
Any suggestions on how to deal with/get through a panic attack?
Try to get to a quiet, calm place. If you’re in the heat, go indoors where it’s cool. Take slow, deep breaths and do whatever you can to relax.
If you have recurring panic attacks, your physician may prescribe a fast-acting sedative, like Valium or Xanax, that you can take as soon as you feel a panic attack coming on.
Dr. Lee Butterfield is a board-certified cardiologist at Beaufort Memorial Cardiology Specialists. An honors graduate of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Dr. Butterfield completed his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine-New Haven Hospital and fellowship training in general and interventional cardiology at the Medical University of South Carolina. He sees patients in both Beaufort and Bluffton: 843-522-7110.
If you are experiencing debilitating anxiety or depression, do not hesitate to seek medical help, and be sure to take the medicine. These are conditions that WILL GET BETTER with the proper treatment and short-term (or long-term) medications.
How do I know if I am depressed?
It is normal to feel sad sometimes, but when those symptoms start to interfere with normal daily activities, you may be depressed. Some of the signs of depression may include: Changes in sleep (sleeping more than normal or having difficulty sleeping), increased or decreased appetite, social withdrawal, loss of interest in usual activities, low energy, difficulty concentrating, feeling worthless or helpless, increased guilt, or even physical pains. If you think you are depressed, it is important to seek medical help.
Jami Feltner, MD, Board Certified Internal Medicine | Dr. Feltner’s philosophy and approach to wellness include disease prevention and establishing long-term relationships with her patients, families and throughout the community. Her goal is to educate, advise, and support her patients to a healthier, happier life. Hilton Head Primary Care: Medical Pavilion - 25 Hospital Center Blvd., Suite 105 Hilton Head, SC 29926; 843-682-2004; www.hhprimarycare.com