Anxiety Phobias – Friends and Family

Sometimes family and partners can suffer too when a loved one has an anxiety disorder or a very serious phobia. For these people it is often very difficult to understand why you can’t or won’t do something as everyday as driving on the freeway or going to a crowded supermarket. Things can get even trickier when partners, spouses and family members realise that you will not go on holiday with them. On the dark side many marriages and relationships have bee finished off by anxiety disorders and particularly agoraphobia.
So what can be done to minimize the stress this puts on you and those around you? Here’s a list of tips for the sufferer, underneath are some for the family.

  • Be open and honest about what you are feeling, don’t try and hide anything.
  • Take a book from the library or find them information from the Internet.
  • Explain to them that the pressure they are putting you under is not helping.
  • Explain that you can’t “just pull yourself together”, and that if you could you would have already.
  • Remind them that it is worse for you, despite their griping and incredulation.
  • That said, their nagging can be harnessed to motivate you to move forwards.
  • And showing them progress will help, so now is the time to act!
  • Stick up for yourself! Taking control of your life is always a great help when getting over anxiety.

Are you the friend, family member or partner of an anxiety sufferer? Read how to cope with an anxiety sufferer.

Anxiety Treatment Options

Anxiety disorders are treatable and lots of people do get over them. There are four main ways to treat anxiety:

  • Drugs
  • Therapy
  • Complimentary/alternative therapy
  • Self help

Drug therapy is often a doctor’s first reaction when a patient presents with anxiety or panic. Typically benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax will be prescribed. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) like Prozac and Citalopram are also commonly used. For more information on drug use for tackling anxiety, including medication-user reviews and pros and cons visit the Medication page.

Some kind of therapy is often vital in order to overcome anxiety. Those who live in countries with national health services or who have decent medical insurance are often offered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Another option is more analytical therapy, which is a longer term option but may well be a waste of time and money. If all your anxiety is caused by negative thinking or you are depressed then it might be worth a look, but for most anxiety sufferers the past and their childhood are little more than irrelevant to what they are feeling now.

There are literally thousands of types of complimentary and alternative therapies ranging from acupuncture to “zero balancing”. They often promise a great deal but only a few of them stand up to statistical analysis. I will be looking into several of them further on this website. Do your research before you spend your money and above all watch out for charlatans, there are many of them about! On the whole you would have to say that when these alternative therapies work it is due to the placebo effect and not because there is any hard science behind them. I would avoid Hypnoanalysis like the plague. It is basically a money-making scam.

Self help can be empowering, rewarding and successful. You should also be aware when to seek help. There are a wealth of relaxation, positive affirmation and meditation techniques in the public domain which can be of tremendous benefit. Mindfulness Meditation is one of the best techniques for anxiety. It is easy to learn and can be learnt from a book or CD at relatively small cost. Those who persevere with it see it as a life-changer!

Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic

There are many potential symptoms of anxiety and panic. Some are powerful enough to send patients rushing to their doctors. The good news is that like all other symptoms of anxiety, these symptoms are utterly harmless and always pass!

Anxiety has been broken down into various labels: Social anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) etc. This web-site deals with getting over anxiety in all its forms, and doesn’t find labels such as these particularly relevant. The important thing is to go with what you feel and be aware of it.
Panic Attacks Panic attacks are usually characterised by sudden bursts of (usually) unexpected fear. The symptoms can include palpitations (racing heart), light-headedness, dizziness, vertigo or lack of balance, and an overwhelming need to escape. Commonly hyperventilation (normally very rapid shallow breathing) is present during a panic attack.

The good news is that like all symptoms of panic attacks, these symptoms are completely harmless and always pass!

So what’s the difference between anxiety and a panic attack? Well, for some sufferers the difference might not be that great. A severe attack of anxiety may be very similar to panic. Some people who have a lot of generalized anxiety also have panic attacks, or used to. Many more have anxiety but don’t panic as such. There are as many different permutations as there are sufferers. The important thing is that you have been correctly diagnosed and are ready to take on your problems, whatever label you give them.

Phobias

There is a big difference between a phobia and a strong fear. Many people that talk about phobias actually have fears, they are scared of something but don’t have an anxiety / panic response. Strong fears can often be relieved through education about the object of their phobia. If, for example, someone was squeamish about the idea of a house spider crawling over their hand but spent a few moments in the presence of zoologist who explained to them how harmless a spider is and why it moves so fast they could probably start to let go of their fears. And after challenging their fears once or twice they would probably become neutral to spiders. Would the same thing work for a phobia? Maybe. People with phobias usually have a complete aversion and believe that if they were to come into contact with the object of their phobia they would “go mad” or “lose it”, faint, be sick, or even die. Of course none of these outcomes are true. A person with a fear of spiders may think it will bite or attack them. A person with a phobia may feel that they will lose control, go mad, pass-out, or even die if the spider comes near them. People with phobias are often actually scared of feeling the symptoms of anxiety or panic. In these cases it is more important to deal with the feelings of anxiety and panic than anything to do with the object itself. Gradual exposure to the object can begin later.
If the anxiety or panic has been dealt with then the gradual exposure is normally relatively easy and the phobia can be beaten.

All symptoms of panic are harmless. However horrid they feel, they do always pass.You should always have your anxiety and panic symptoms diagnosed by an understanding healthcare professional. Some symptoms of anxiety, panic and stress can be confused with other disorders and these should be ruled out first. Do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you don’t feel your initial diagnosis was accurate.

There can be many symptoms of anxiety and panic and some people find it hard to differentiate between the two.

When I suffered from anxiety I had both mental and physical symptoms.

Physical

  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Laboured breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tingling arms and legs
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Visual disturbance (e.g. as if just walked into a dark room on a sunny day)

Mental

  • Feelings of unreality, as if detached from everything else
  • A depressed feeling that it will never pass

 

Hypnosis for anxiety, panic attacks and phobias

Hypnotherapy is easily the best established of the “magic-wand” cures for anxiety and panic attacks. To lie back and let someone ‘into your head’ to deal with your problems for you is the ultimate passive response to anxiety, panic, and phobias. It sounds great and has been alluring to sufferers of phobias and anxiety for decades, not least because it claims to be quick.

Does it work? Well…it CAN do, sometimes.

The type of hypnotherapy offered to the anxiety sufferer normally falls into one of two categories. In one the hypnotherapist seeks out the cause, often through regression, and aims to change your perception of a past event or release emotion from it. The other seeks to change your behaviour by changing the way you think, by encouraging you to have belief in yourself for example. Hypnosis can work, and some people have been helped.

The problem with hypnosis is that you have to be relaxed, and an anxious or panic stricken person can not always relax in a hypnotherapist’s clinic. Also, the anxiety sufferer may well worry about entering an altered state, if they won’t go into a crowded shopping mall then there’s not much chance of them willingly going into a third state of consciousness. Contrary to popular belief you can only be hypnotised if you want to be, and even if you have just paid the hypnotherapist half your weeks wages it still may be hard to let him or her talk you into a relaxed state. All too often the sufferer will effectively pretend to be in a state of hypnosis, worried that they will look stupid if they admit it hasn’t worked.

A word about regression. Finding the cause doesn’t mean curing the problem, although it may in a few cases. Because of this I don’t particularly recommend hypnotherapy for the anxiety sufferer unless they are confident that they can fully relax and allow themselves to drift into hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis is a better prospect and can be used to learn some interesting relaxation techniques but I prefer one of the various meditation for anxiety forms.

Writing down anxiety – Morning Pages

Morning Pages for Anxiety. Writing can be very therapeutic. It should not be the main treatment for someone with a major traumatic event haunting them, but for those of us who have things on our mind it can be a powerful treatment. It is also incredibly simple.

Try to do this spontaneously when you are feeling low/anxious/panicky.

Take a pen and paper and set them in front of you on a good writing surface.

Close your eyes and allow the emotion to be there, let it rise up in you.

Visualizing the emotion inside you, see it move into your shoulder, then down your arm and forearm into your hand.

Slowly open your eyes and allow the emotion to flow out through the pen onto the paper. Write or draw whatever you want, whatever comes to mind. Use extra paper if necessary.

Stop when you feel ready, then look back over your work and ask yourself if there is anymore you’d like to add.

Leave the paper somewhere safe and come back to it after a few days and reconsider it. Most people will find they have released some of the emotion involved with what was bothering them.

As an extension to this exercise you can burn the paper (somewhere safe!), and feel even more emotion leave you as those old memories go up in flames.

Visualization and Anxiety

– A personal experience on using Visualization to help overcome anxiety.

Exposure Therapy, the most dreaded part of any phobic’s treatment. It’s the time when you have to actually face whatever has been scaring you, causing anxiety, or making you have panic attacks. But perhaps you should stop and wait just for a moment. Are you doing everything you can to make exposure therapy quick, easy and relatively painless? Could visualization help?

Some people aren’t afraid of anything and go through life without anxiety, shrug off bad news and thrive from stress. They are as tough as old boots. Over the last few decades experts have devoted hours to understanding why some people are more optimistic, fearless, and hardy than others. There are a few obvious reasons like upbringing, possibly some genetics, diet, and brain structure which play a role, but none of those things damn you to a life of uncontrollable anxiety, far and hopelessness. So what do the successful people do differently?

Visualization.

For years people have done visualization exercises for the purpose of relaxation, the standard one being to visualize yourself on a beach feeling the warmth on your skin. As relaxation techniques they are very effective for most people, resulting in a lowering of blood pressure and pulse rate, and helping relieve muscle tension. Most people report feeling calmer. This is great for general anxiety, stress and worry but only of limited help when it comes to tackling phobias. Relaxation is good and obviously it’s better to tackle a phobia with a relaxed body than with a tense one, but state of mind is very important and the site of the phobic situation, be it entering an airport, seeing the elevator doors or hearing the subway train approaching, can bring all of that relaxation crashing down.

So what can be done to make a different kind of visualization work for you? Let’s examine two options.

Firstly, when it comes to tackling a phobia sun-kissed beaches are probably irrelevant. Instead of fooling your mind into relaxing in some bogus situation why not imagine the real thing. Actually see yourself doing whatever it is you have a phobia of in a calm, relaxed and happy fashion as if you were “normal”. If you are claustrophobic and scared of travelling in an elevator why not visualize yourself leaving your house, arriving at a tall building, calmly walking over to the elevator, pressing the button to summon it, waiting for the doors to open, stepping in and watching the doors close, then feeling the feeling in your stomach as it rises and then imagine stepping out at your destination. Before you do this read about how to make visualization really work below.

1, Most important, always visualise in the “first person”, that means see it from your own eyes, don’t see yourself doing it as if you were an actor on a movie screen. Your mind will see it as someone else, not as you.

2, Don’t just use sight, use your other senses too. Think about everything that you might hear, feel and smell and recreate them in your mind. Think also of things that are not important to the situation but which you might hear anyway, people talking in the background, mobile phones ringing etc. Also do this with sights, smells and textures.

3, If you find visualization hard persevere, it will come.

4, If you find it impossible to visualize being calm and happy in the phobic situation then break down the visualization into parts. Spend some days becoming calm looking at the elevator from the outside, take as long as you need. Build up to it as slowly as you want and eventually you will get to be calm and happy in the situation you used to feel.

5, when it feels right, go for it in real life!

Anxiety and Trauma

Trauma is thought to cause anxiety at least in some cases. People talk about the effects of trauma from the past in various different ways. The more alternative healthcare field often labels past trauma as “trapped negative energy”, a nice phrase because something which is trapped can be set free: the holy grail of anxiety…an instant cure. Sufferers of anxiety would do well to take care when dealing with the past, and remember a few things:

  • Resolving the past doesn’t always change the future.
  • Effects are seldom dramatic and instantaneous. Instead they are often subtle
    and gradual.
  • No one technique cures everything
  • Dealing with the past may be a painful or odd experience, professional help
    should be enlisted.
  • Regression through hypnosis for anxiety rarely, if ever, works.

There will be more on how to treat the effects of trauma later. But some commonly used techniques are:

If your anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias (including agoraphobia, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) were caused by trauma, then arguably you have what is labelled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Label “PTSD” is not important, I am using it only as PTSD is eminently treatable through a variety of methods.

How did I get PTSD?

We still don’t exactly understand how the shock of a trauma gets trapped inside us. Some people believe that if an event we witness is so horrific that our subconscious wants to protect us from it for all time, we store the memory in separate loop that is not effected by reason or the passage of time. Research into this continues. The important thing is: if you have those memories stored inside you either consciously or subconsciously you can get them out and get better.

How do I treat PTSD and cure my anxiety/panic/phobias?

Well, as always you should be weary of quick-fix cures. It may take some sessions to deal with a trauma, and longer if your problem is constructed of smaller, insignificant seeming traumas. Keep reading to hear about the various approaches used to release the trauma. In recent years there have been enormous breakthroughs in treating PTSD in war and disaster scenarios, but this hasn’t yet translated into breakthroughs in the field of anxiety.

Will this cure me?

Everyone’s different. Results range from no effect in those people who were
wrongly thought to be traumatized, to eventual complete release and freedom.
There is a definite middle ground where sufferers feel much better and much
more able to tackle their fears through exposure, a process that really works
when there is nothing holding you back.

For some of the techniques used to cure PTSD click here.

Hypnoanalysis for Anxiety – What to expect

What are the benefits of Hypnoanalysis for anxiety? In this section I will explain a bit about the process of hypnoanalysis.  I will base what I write here on the testimony of someone who has who undergone hypnoanalysis. In this particular case hypnoanalysis was sought in order to treat a fear of flying (aviophobia) and other travel and claustrophobia related issues. The exact nature of the problem is not however the point in hypnoanalysis; most practitioners believe that the subconscious will take you to the causal memories and events and see the day to day manifestations of anxiety or depress and panic as symptoms of this initial cause.

Important!!! After writing this post I also wrote this post asking whether hypnoanalysis is a scam. It makes shocking reading!

Free Initial Conversation

The free initial conversation consisted of a chat lasting about thirty minutes. The therapist explained that therapy would last at the most twelve sessions and rarely saw results in less than six. They also said that it might become apparent after a few sessions that hypnoanalysis would not likely be successful, in which case the therapist would recommend that therapy be terminated. It was explained that therapy took the form of “free association” in a light hypnotic trance state and that over the sessions the subconscious mind would create a trail of memories back to the memory that has caused negative emotions like anxiety, ibs, depression, panic and other symptoms. The session finished with questions and answers which reassured the client that their problems could be cured.

Session 1

Session one was not in itself hypnoanalysis. Instead it was suggestion hypnosis in which the unconscious mind was programmed to start looking back to the past and ordering memories, creating the links that would be used later. A trance state was achieved by talking the client through a series of muscle relaxation exercises similar to progressive relaxation. The client reported feeling so relaxed they entered sleep state at some point. The therapist said that that didn’t matter at all, as the subconscious would still have been functioning. After the session the client reported feeling relaxed and calm, and more positive.

Session 2-5

The next four sessions were largely the same. In these sessions the true process of hypnoanalysis started. The process of free association was explained thus: when prompted the client would recite memories of whatever came into their mind, they would describe only exactly what they saw and felt, not the background story. Their subconscious mind would then move them on to the next memory and the process would be repeated. The client was instructed just to allow the memories to come, reporting what they could see and feel but not judging them or ignoring any that they consciously thought were irrelevant or too embarrassing to think about.

Again the client was induced into a trance state by muscle relaxation, and a deepener was used. When the therapist felt that the client was in a light trance she instructed the client to allow the subconscious to recite a memory that from their youth that was connected in some way to feelings of guilt or shame. The process of free association continued for about forty minutes when the client was stopped and gently brought back to the present. As predicted by the therapist the client got no therapeutic benefit from the first five sessions.

EMDR for Anxiety

EMDR may or may not work for anxiety. EMDR was accidentally discovered by Francine Shapiro. She noticed one day while out walking that thoughts that were causing her mild anxiety suddenly disappeared. She tried to work out why and soon narrowed it down to the fact that she had flicked her eyes around while the thoughts were on her mind. She tried it again with another anxious thought and realized she had stumbled on a technique that could quickly change people. EMDR was born. It has been put to good use with Vietnam Veterans and sufferers of other major Traumas such as rape victims. Although EMDR can be practiced on one’s self this is only recommended after several sessions with a professional, which can be expensive. There are several books which explain the process.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It was invented by Francine Shapiro in 1987. Since then EMDR Therapy has come along way and is now used regularly for the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). More controversially it used to treat depression, anxiety, and phobias. I say controversially because the scientific proof of its efficacy is as ever lacking and therapists tend to base their claims on anecdotal evidence. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.

The fact that EMDR is successful for PTSD suggests that it would also be useful for any condition that is caused by a traumatic memory or the failure to correctly process a traumatic memory.

What is EMDR?

EMDR works, it is thought, by activating both the right and left sides of the brain while recalling an traumatic event. This allows the memory to be reprocessed and the emotion attached to it to be released. The activation of the left and right sides of the brain is normally achieved through eye movement: the practitioner or therapist will instruct you to hold your head still and track your eyes from left to right and back, up and down or diagonally.

Although it is called EYE MOVEMENT desensitization and reprocessing eye movements are not essential and when a patient for some reason can not make eye movements sound or touch stimulation can be used. Occasionally specialist EMDR equipment is used to direct the patients eyes, play noises or stimulate touch. Also software has been made available, but home use without the supervision of a trained therapist or practitioner is not recommended.

EMDR seems simple, but in fact it is a form of psychotherapy and can cause repressed issues to surface, that is why a practitioner is needed, particularly when dealing with sever trauma. Self EMDR is not recommended! (But people have done it! Books on EMDR here.)

There are various EMDR organisations and societies, and practitioners can be found in the UK, France, Spain, and Australia with little problem. For the EMDR institute click here. Make sure a therapist you chose has had sufficient training. Some courses are quick, may be run by cowboys, and should be avoided. There isn’t much information on EMDR on the WWW.

What about Anxiety, Phobias, Panic Attacks and Depression with EMDR

You are a bit unlikely to get this on your health insurance or the UK NHS (National Health Service), but if you can find a good practitioner why not give it a go. Expect to pay £35-50 ($50-75) for a session and the number of sessions needed may be one to many. There definitely have been positive results and I suspect that it will become more and more recognised as time goes on.

There may well be times however when the memories that caused the phobia/anxiety/depression have been processed and what is left over is learnt behaviour. In such cases EMDR is unlikely to help much.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks – The effect of diet, fitness, supplements, and lifestyle.

What you eat and how much you exercise does make a difference to anxiety and panic. Changing your diet will not make a phobia disappear, but it might well make it easier to tackle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about diets, reading books by dietitians of all descriptions, and tying different supplements. Some diets I tried were for anxiety, others were for general well-being. Likewise the supplements. The one thing they had in common was to promise much and deliver little. I don’t believe anxiety is caused by bad diet, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. If it were a lot more people would have anxiety than actually do. Instead, poor diet and little exercise can make you feel worse and therefore are also a sure fire way to make you feel a bit better. You don’t want to feel a bit better, you want to be cured I know. But as I am trying to tell you, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And you need to make changes which you control.

So if diets and supplements don’t work, what should you do?

The simple answer is to do what’s best for you. You need to be your own dietitian. I found two aspects effected my anxiety levels: blood sugar and indigestion. If you suffer from periods of highs and lows then your blood sugar could be to blame. It is always a good idea to arrange for your doctor to test for diabetes. If you are not diabetic then you would do well to change your diet to include as much low GI foods as possible, and as few high GI foods. If you cut out refined sugars you will probably feel better after sometime, and after a week or two you will probably stop craving them too.

The other important thing I found was that I tended to feel best in the mornings, but that after lunch I felt worse. I felt heavy, lethargic, lacking in energy, and if I had to do anything like go into town I would feel anxious. After sometime I realised that this was down to high carbohydrate meals and over eating. I used to eat until I was full every meal, and each time my stomach got a bit bigger. With all that food to digest I had little energy for anything else and when walking quickly through town as agoraphobics do if they go in town at all, I could end up feeling quite faint and quite sick. Obviously the answer was to get used to eating a whole lot less. In fact I started to get into the habit of eating a good size meal, say a small plate full, and then stopping. If I was still hungry in twenty minutes I could eat a little more. I almost never did. The difference it made to my energy levels was spectacular.

I don’t think you should go on a very low carbohydrate diet. In my experience people tend to feel worse and more anxious. But if you were to cut out the majority of bread you eat, say keeping it down to a couple of slices a day, and concentrated more on eating vegetables, you would probably feel better. Remember, unless your doctor tells you otherwise you are not allergic to wheat. Wheat allergies are very rare, wheat intolerance is quite common. But wheat intolerance is something of a symptom of stress, not a cause. That is why I say you should cut down on high carbohydrate foods, not cut them out completely.

I don’t think anxiety can be helped or cured by supplements. In my experience they are an expensive waste of time. They certainly won’t do anything for phobias. If you eat a balanced diet you get everything you need, and you can use your diet to control your mood and energy levels. And control is good.

As with diet, revolutionising your fitness regime will not cure your anxiety but can make you feel better. You should always check with your healthcare professional before starting or changing an exercise regime. The idea is not to bulk up like the Incredible Hulk, nor to be as thin as a long distance runner. It’s just about increasing your general fitness levels, and toning up your muscles a bit. Some “experts” are inclined to go on about body oxygen levels and brain chemistry. They may be right but I would be inclined to stick to tangibles. As your fitness increases you will find you sleep a bit better and have an improved body image. You will also have more energy and feel calmer.

So, how should you get fit? This is not going to be a fad, it’s going to be part of your lifestyle forever. For this reason you need to chose something you enjoy and can enjoy in all weathers. I chose cycling because I don’t mind cycling in the rain. A brisk walk each day is good, as is a competitive sport. It’s really up to you, just do something! The warm up is also essential, so don’t forget that.

Some people find that exercise causes them to hyperventilate and feel anxious or panicky. If this is the case then start slowly and build up extra gradually. Walking would be a good exercise to chose. If it’s a really big problem, if you have effectively got a phobia to getting out of breath, you can lay off the exercise until you are more advanced in your treatment.

Here is the fitness regime that I followed. I did ONE of the following each day.

Either:
A brisk walk for forty minutes, including hills.

Or:
A one hour bike ride, including long periods in the highest gear and standing up. I made sure the route included some hills.

Or:
A circuit training workout

I used this technique to exercise in my room at home with minimal materials. I selected ten types of exercise (listed below, but of course you can chose your own.) I did each activity for 45 seconds then had a 45 second rest. At the end of the list I repeated it once. That took the total workout time to thirty minutes.

1) Press-ups
2) Sit-ups
3) Squat-Thrusts
4) High Kicks (remember not to strain yourself too much or push too far.)
5) Hard shadow boxing on toes.
6) Jumping the rope (With a pretend rope!)
7) Kicks to the side.
8) Weights (Remember to use light weights, this is not about bulking-up).
9) Shadow boxing again.
10) More weights.

I can’t stress enough that you should exercise at your own pace, stop if anything hurts or feels strained, and speak to your doctor before you start exercising. But everyone who is medically capable should be exercising and you will feel better. When it comes to diet and fitness you shouldn’t think about a cure for your problems. Instead see them as a first step to taking control. As you start to take pride in your healthier regime your self esteem will also benefit. See it as a foundation.