Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Prisoner of Fear

Life with anxiety is like walking across a tight-rope. If you lose your balance, you fall off and lose control. And during those times you do have balance, you are afraid of falling off. 

When we feel threatened, fear releases adrenalin and other hormones. Adrenalin prepares the body for 'fight or flight', increasing your heart rate and your breathing to provide for the increased oxygen demands required for flight; your gastrointestinal systems m temporarily shuts down as it is not needed for fight or flight; you become hyper-alert and your senses heighten, so that you are ready to respond to dangers; and sweating cools the body down while we run from the 'danger' (muscles generate heat when moving). These changes ensure that we are prepared to fight or run. "This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers...The response is not so useful if you want to run away from exams, public speaking, a driving test, or having an injection." *

Anxiety is when the body inappropriately prepares for fight or flight. Your heart beats very fast, you have a dry mouth, your hands are sweaty, you're hyper-vigilant and paranoid, you lose your appetite and you feel like something very bad is about to happen. You are terrified you will fall off your tight rope and lose control. You fear that the world is about to end. You feel like you are going crazy. Everything seems much worse than it is. It is perfectly natural to get anxious times like these - you don't have to be suffering with an anxiety disorder to be anxious. Anxiety can affect anyone. But when the anxiety takes over, becoming a regular thing and interfering with your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

In 2010, my anxiety was so severe that I was unable to leave the house for months. I thought that if I left the house, I would die. Light and sound frightened me; the outside world deafened and blinded me. The world seemed dangerous and strange to me. Every bad that has happened to me in life has happened beyond these walls...I could not just 'go outside for some fresh air, you'll feel better', because quite simply, it was impossible.

The charity Anxiety UK say that "Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can be defined as a disorder in which the sufferer feels in a constant state of high anxiety." They add that what makes GAD different from 'normal', everyday worrying is "that the worry is prolonged (it lasts for over 6 months), and the level of worry is out of proportion to the risk."

Anxiety UK lists the most common symptoms of anxiety as:

  • Increased heart rate 
  • Increased muscle tension
  • “Jelly legs” 
  • Tingling in the hands and feet 
  • Hyperventilation
  • Dizziness 
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wanting to use the toilet more often
  • Feeling sick
  • Tight band across the chest area
  • Tension headaches
  • Hot flushes
  • Increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth 
  • Shaking 
  • Choking sensations 
  • Palpitations

GAD can also "cause problems with sleep, ability to maintain a job as well as impact close relationships."

The two main forms of treatment for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) are psychological therapies and/or medications such as anti-depressants and sedatives, depending on your case. The most effective kind of talking therapy is thought to be Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you understand your anxiety and teaches you useful coping mechanisms -it works by helping you identify unhelpful thoughts and behavioural patterns and then working to overcome them.

I am waiting for psychological therapies (I have been for a very long time!) but I am taking an antidepressant called sertraline (Zoloft); which helps, but over time it is losing it efficacy because my brain can tolerate more and more of it. Sertraline is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor); it is from the same family of meds that include (fluoxetine) Prozac, citalopram, and others.

Another type of anti-depressant, SNRIs (Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors) may be prescribed if you are not prescribed SSRIs. These medications work on the chemistry of the brain by increasing serotonin levels (SNRIs also increase noradrenaline levels in the brain). SNRIs include vanlafaxine (Effexor), Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and others.

Other medications that may be prescribed are pregabalin (an anti-convulsant thought to be effective in treating anxiety) or benzodiazepines (sedatives such as diazepam (Valium). Benzos are very effective, fast-acting meds with a short half-life, but many doctors are reluctant to prescribe them for long periods or not prescribe them at all as they are known to be quite addictive.

Living with anxiety is not pretty and it is impossible to put a pretty dress on it. But it can be managed. Don't suffer in silence. Please go to your doctor if you're experiencing chronic anxiety, because you need relief from the daily torture of anxiety. You may find that managing your anxiety will help improve the symptoms of your physical illnesses. Good luck! 

1 comment:

  1. I know how Anxiety can stop you in your tracks, make you scared to take a step and all that crap... Anyone that has Anxiety understands that and people who don't can't really begin to understand. I would much rather deal with the physical pain of my illness than the emotional side of it. I can handle any pain as long as I am mentally together. My anxiety is much better due to my diet now. I am overall tons better but still have my problems with my hormones and when I get into foods or chemicals that I should not....who know that a bag of Flamin Hot Fritos could bring my world to a screeching halt to the point my husband had to come tend to me. There is a gift that comes along with anxiety and that is those friends and family that stick by your side are truly amazing people. Hugs for being brave enough to put it all out there so others can know they are not alone.


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