Biology Trumps Psychology
The myriad of mental health issues that exist are very real and have a profound impact on countless Americans. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis in order for the problem to be effectively treated. The vast majority of mental health issues are just that, mental health issues. However, there are dozens of medical, biological, chemical issues that can manifest as mental health issues. In these instances, treating the mental health symptoms, such as depression, may fail to address the true source of the symptoms. Before diagnosing a mental health disorder, it is critical to be on the lookout for possible medical conditions and rule them out. If there is an underlying medical condition, things will not improve or get better. This is an instance where biology trumps psychology.
Self-Advocacy and Thorough Assessment
Whether you are the patient or the provider, it is important that you be aware and on the lookout for biological and medical causes for mental health symptoms. It is important not to confuse symptoms for their causes. For example, don’t assume depressive symptoms automatically mean depression, or that psychotic symptoms automatically mean schizophrenia. If you are the patient presenting with mental health symptoms and you have no history of mental health problems and no obvious stressors (divorce, job loss, etc.) tha read more
Although most people believe depression is the number one mental health issue, it’s actually anxiety. There are many more cases of anxiety and it can manifest in a variety of forms such as: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to name the more common ones. In most cases, the best treatment option depends on the diagnosis and the particular issues going on in a person’s life. Based on these variables’ healthcare professionals try to figure out the best treatment plan. Anti-anxiety medications are often part of the treatment plan when treating anxiety disorders. Broadly speaking most anxiety disorders are treated with antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or a few atypical anti-anxiety medications.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive worry, rumination, and preoccupation that is intrusive and affects concentration, sleep, and energy level to name just a few symptoms. In most cases, generalized anxiety disorder responds quite well to antidepressants. There are a wide variety of antidepressants that generally target the neurotransmitters for serotonin and norepinephrine. These medications need to be taken daily and generally take 3-6 weeks to build up in the bloodstream and provide some symptom relief. Most people notice improvements in sleep, appetite, ener read more
In the last article, we talked about the physiological chain reaction that occurs with anxiety. As anxiety triggers the release of stress hormones into our bloodstream the body is switching from a state of relaxation to a state of arousal. For many people, this creates a rapid snowball effect that causes anxiety to spike quickly in the moment.
Principles of Reactive Tools
The primary goal with reactive tools is to try to reduce anxiety in the moment and prevent the cascading snowball effect and keep anxiety from building or triggering a full-blown panic attack. Unfortunately, we cannot control much in the physiological chain reaction in order to keep our body in a state of relaxation. The main objective of reactive tools is to try to get our body back into a state of relaxation. With some conscious effort, there are a couple of things we can control to try to force the body back to a relaxed state.
When we feel stressed and anxious, physical tension builds in your chest which causes chest muscles to contract. This causes breathing to become short, shallow, and choppy. This general lack of oxygen, in turn, causes your veins and arteries to constrict and the heart has to pump harder to circulate blood flow. All this facilitates increased arousal. For the most part, our breathing operates read more
Anxiety: A Three-Part Series
Part One: The Physiological Chain Reaction
Treating Anxiety in Therapy
Many people elect to treat their anxiety with anti-depressants and/or benzodiazepines such as Xanax when they are dealing with panic attacks. These can be very effective for many people. That said, we get an equal number of people who would prefer to treat their anxiety without medications or treat their anxiety with counseling in addition to medication. When treating anxiety in counseling there are two main ways to treat it therapeutically. There are reactive tools and proactive tools. Reactive tools are utilized when the anxiety flares up and is actively going on. The goal is to reduce the intensity of the anxiety and try to get it to dissipate. These are useful tools to have and can keep anxiety from escalating to the point of panic attacks for many people. As a precursor to discussing the reactive and proactive tools of anxiety, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the chain reaction that occurs with anxiety. In the next two articles, we will sp read more
Most people are not sure if they have ever had a panic attack until they hear exactly what they are. Many people have experienced heightened levels of anxiety at various times in their life, but panic attacks bring it to the highest level and are very alarming. Panic attacks are typically triggered by intense worry or anxiety, but end up triggering a severe physical reaction. Most describe a feeling of losing control or wonder if they are having a heart attack.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Symptoms of a panic attack often feel like they hit suddenly, without warning, and seemingly out of nowhere. A panic attack may last for five minutes or as long as a half-hour, but become very intense within minutes. Symptoms can include racing heart, chest pains, sweats, shakes, chills, nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, a sense of doom or dying, hot flashes, or headaches. Given the intensity of them, many people begin to develop a fear or anxiety about experiencing another one, which can create a snowball effect or even cause people to avoid going out for fear of having one in public situations.
Causes of Panic Attacks
Although there is no known cause for panic attacks, some research points to genetics, environmental stressors, the experienceread more
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the most common form of clinical anxiety and is different from normal everyday worry. Where most people report having some general and specific worries, they are capable of controlling it. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) experience exaggerated worry and fears throughout the day with little or nothing provoking it. Their anxiety is intrusive, difficult to get off their mind, and often uncontrollable. They may be overly preoccupied with money, relationships, health issues, career, or ruminate about decisions and choices. GAD is twice as common in women as men. The disorder can occur at any age but commonly manifests in adolescence to middle age. Untreated GAD is prone to the development of other issues such as depression or abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
A thorough mental health diagnostic evaluation should be sought if three of the following symptoms are persisting for six months or more in conjunction with excessive worry and preoccupation that is difficult to control. 1) muscle tension, 2) disturbed sleep (insomnia or excess sleep), 3) being easily fatigued, 4) restlessness or feeling on the edge, 5) irritability, 6) indecisiveness or lack of concentration. Unlike physical issues like strep throat, there is no laboratory test to prove whether a person ha read more
- Remember that although your feelings and symptoms are frightening, they are neither dangerous nor harmful.
- Understand that what you are experiencing is merely an exaggeration of your normal reactions to stress.
- Do not fight your feelings or try to wish them away. The more willing you are to face them, the less intense they will become.
- Don’t add to your panic by thinking about what “might happen.” If you find yourself asking, “What if?” tell yourself “So what!”
- Stay in the present. Be aware of what is happening to you rather than concern yourself with how much worse it might get.
- Label your fear level from 0 to 10 and watch it go up and down. Notice that it doesn’t stay at a very high level for more than a few seconds.
- When you find yourself thinking about fear, change your “what if” thinking. Focus on and perform some simple, manageable tasks.
- Notice that when you stop thinking frightening thoughts your anxiety fades.
- When fear comes, accept it, don’t fight it. Wait and give it time to pass. Don’t try to escape from it, and remember to breathe
- Be proud of the progress you’ve made. Think about how good you will feel when the anxiety has passed and you are in total control and at peace.