Question: I am a man who has been having anxiety attacks for 10 years. Does it have to do with depression? When does it go away? Is there help out there?
Answer: Depression and anxiety often go together like hand in glove. Of course, not all depressions have components of anxiety. But worry, lack of concentration, insomnia and restlessness are components of anxiety — and often accompany depression, too.
Anxiety disorders and depression are the most commonly under-diagnosed behavioral illnesses. Chronic anxiety saps your energy and can mimic the symptoms of serious heart or lung conditions, resulting in chest pains, shortness of breath, sweating and nausea. These extreme episodes are dubbed “panic attacks.”
Anxiety could be caused by the side-effect of a medication or such illnesses as an under-functioning thyroid or low testosterone. If you have suffered from anxiety or “agitated depression” for 10 years, it is unlikely they will go away without some intensive treatment.
You need to have a thorough physical examination. If there is no physical reason for your anxiety attacks, you may be referred to a psychotherapist or psychologist to help you identify the causes of your stress.
Beyond professional intervention, there is quite a bit you can do to help yourself.
Redirect Your Mental Focus
Stay “healthfully distracted”, meaning fight the urges to isolate, hibernate and ruminate. It helps to join others with similar interests in what by now may be your forgotten hobbies or avocations. If you are a religious person, stay spiritually connected.
One practical faith-derived tip is to practice yoga breathing techniques, often called “belly breathing.” Place your hand about one inch from your navel, then breath slowly, through your nose, filling your lungs so your abdominal wall moves out and touches your hand. This is a check for DEEP breathing. Release the air slowly through the mouth with your throat slightly closed so you make a gentle “xhhhhh” sound. This helps slow your metabolism, oxygenate your brain and has no side effects unless you breathe too rapidly and hyperventilate!
Stay healthfully active. Garden, climb stairs instead of using elevators, and choose distant parking spots. Not only does a brisk walk release feel-good chemicals into your brain. If you share your stroll with a human or beast (my dog is named Oscar) you’ll stay connected and perhaps be able to share your thoughts and concerns with a caring individual.
Get the Right Nutrition
From a nutritional standpoint, follow a diet generally lower in sweets and starches, and don’t bite at the common urge to drink away your troubles with alcohol. Think “Mediterranean” or “Caveman” when it comes to diet.
A potent multivitamin, B-complex and Omega-3 (“fish oil” or EPA/DHA) supplement all have specific actions that help support mental health and fight negative stress reactions. Ask your doctor if she would object. Valerian root is another tried and true anti-anxiety agent, and doesn’t appear to be addictive.
Be cautious with this or any other herb if you take prescription psychoactive medications, however. There are good databases around and be mindful of drug interactions.
Yes, there is help “out there” — but a good deal of help is within you. Please see a behavioural specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Life needn’t be a series of anxiety attacks separated by worry and desperation.