Overcoming fear

April 30, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Anxiety is common in many people's lives, generated by school, social fears, work or family matters, among other things.

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Those whose anxiety becomes unmanageable are dealing with the most common of mental disorders, according to National Institute of Mental Health. Such disorders affect 3 to 8 percent of the general population, according to Rebecca Newcomer, outpatient manager for behavioral health services at Summit Behavioral Health in Chambersburg, Pa.

Generally, anxiety helps people cope by gearing them up to face threatening situations or study harder for an exam.

But if your heart starts pounding out of your chest in the middle of the supermarket when there's nothing to fear, there may be cause for concern. Such a response characterizes a panic attack, frequent bouts of which may indicate a panic disorder.

Among the other types of anxiety disorders are phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.


In a dangerous situation, it's desirable for the body to jump to attention in preparation to flee or fight.

"It's simply your body's natural emergency response," says Bruce P. Jennings, a licensed psychologist with Allegheny Psychological Services in Martinsburg, W.Va. Those with panic disorder will trigger such a response at unnecessary times.

Individuals with panic disorders tend to seek treatment more frequently than those with other anxiety disorders because their lives are affected more drastically, says Brenda Price, a licensed clinical social worker in Hagerstown. Those with phobias tend just to avoid what causes them distress rather than seeking professional help, she says.

Some people are referred to counselors by family doctors after frequent visits for what they think are physical problems, like heart attacks, Price says. Problems with performance or attendance at work or school prompt others to seek help, Newcomer says.

A physician can help determine if a person's symptoms are the result of a medical condition, an anxiety disorder or both, according to National Institute of Mental Health.

There are several forms of treatment available.

Medications to make anxiety or depression more manageable are "often a beginning place to help people take the edge off," Newcomer says. Inderal, a cardiac medication, sometimes is used when nothing else works, she says.

Combining medication with psychotherapy has proven to be effective in the long-term for many patients, Newcomer says.

Behavioral therapy involves trying to change specific actions by using various techniques, including breathing and relaxation exercises and exposure therapy, through which patients gradually face what scares them, according to National Institute of Mental Health.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is another form of treatment that is meant to teach patients to react differently to the situations that cause panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety, according to National Institute of Mental Health. It also is meant to help them change their thoughts so symptoms are less likely to occur.

-- Disorder types range from panic attacks to phobias

-- Screening day set for Wednesday

-- Local woman recovering from panic attacks

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