13 questions and answers about anxiety (FAQ)
Anxiety is an emotional and adaptive reaction that we have all felt in our life. For example, in the moments before an examination, after a labor conflict or when making an important decision that can affect our lives considerably.
Now, some people experience different anxiety disorders that cause great discomfort.
- Related article: "Combat anxiety: 5 keys to reduce tension"
Questions and answers about anxiety
Sometimes, many people may have mistaken beliefs about this adaptive reaction and the various anxiety disorders that exist.
Therefore, in the following lines We present a series of questions and answers that aim to clarify some doubts that can arise around this phenomenon.
1. What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural defense mechanism that appears in response to a threat . It is a system that generates adaptive reactions essential for the human being. Depending on the nature and content of the thoughts that the threat awakens, anxiety activates more or less protection systems and manifests itself in a more or less forceful way.
The response generated by anxiety does not depend so much on the type of threat as on the perception we have of it. For this reason, this system is functional when the protection mechanisms it activates are proportional to the danger.
2. What types of anxiety disorders are there?
Although the symptoms of anxiety disorders are similar many times, according to the Statistical Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) there are different anxiety disorders. Among them it is possible to highlight: Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD), Specific Phobic Disorders, Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- You can delve into these disorders in our article: "The 7 types of anxiety (causes and symptoms)"
3. What are phobias?
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that, generally, have their origin in a traumatic experience , because a person associates a phobic stimulus with a negative response. People with phobia feel great fear towards an object, situation and, in other words, a phobic stimulus. This discomfort or anxiety causes the phobic person to avoid this stimulus that causes a reaction of fear or anxiety.
4. What is a panic attack?
The attack of panic (or crisis of anxiety) is just the result of the proliferation of thoughts that warn of a danger and that generate fear accompanied, usually, by a sensation of high risk or imminent catastrophe. It starts suddenly and frequently peaks in less than 20 minutes.
The thoughts that lead this type of episodes share a fatalistic character ("the worst that can happen is ...", "everything is a problem", "Nothing seems a good option", etc.). All of them usually appear automatically. The person is not very aware of their origin or the level of forcefulness and intrusiveness.
The result is a cocktail of emotions that alerts the individual even more and, as a consequence, triggers the symptomatology related to overactivation of the organism. The respiratory rate and heart rate are the main protagonists.
5. What role does breathing play in a panic attack?
We obtain energy through respiration (the nutrients that we acquire through food require oxygen to transform into energy).
When we perceive a threat, we accelerate breathing and, at the moment of inspiration , we use extra muscles to calm our cravings for "taking a breath". All this entails a higher energy cost.
If the feeling of threat does not decrease and the thoughts grow, the respiratory rate increases and remains. The result is a breath that is above the needs of our body, an excessive breathing that requires a lot of energy. It is what we know as hyperventilation.
6. Why is it so difficult to take a breath when we hyperventilate?
When we hyperventilate we load our O2 lungs and generate an imbalance: O2 levels increase but CO2 levels decrease . In order to rebalance the gases, the organism makes it difficult for the individual to take O2. For this reason, in a crisis of anxiety the person feels that he is short of breath and difficult to breathe.
7. And when we play sports, do we not also accelerate our breathing?
Yes.The difference is that, when we play sports, the body needs more energy and we increase the respiratory rate in order to get more O2. This oxygen, when used, produces a high amount of CO2. So that, there is no imbalance between the two gases . For this reason, when we practice sports, we do not have the same symptoms as when we hyperventilate due to anxiety.
8. Why do some people who suffer a panic attack feel they may die?
The acceleration of the respiratory rate and, consequently, of the totality of the metabolism, leads the individual towards a physical limit state . The mismatch between gases (specifically, the decrease in the level of CO2 in blood) produces another phenomenon: the alteration of pH.
This alteration of the pH is responsible for a whole set of sensations that arouse terror: suffocation, acceleration of heart rate, dizziness, tremors, muscle spasms in legs, trunk, arms and even facial muscles, sweating, heat, etc.
The ignorance of what a panic attack is, coupled with such visible physical symptoms, leads the person to think that he is facing a vascular picture (heart attack for example) and not before a problem of psychological origin.
9. What guidelines can help us control a panic attack?
The first essential point is to slow down breathing . For this, it is important to try to take air through the nose (to restrict the entry of O2) and expel through the mouth. As the respiratory rate decreases, the inspirations and expirations are longer (the person begins to feel that they can fill the lungs). Likewise, stop, stop talking and find a "comfortable" space to rest, are three essential elements.
In parallel, the techniques of visualization of breathing function as a method of distraction. Putting color to the path that the gases make by differentiating the O2 input (for example, with the blue color) and the CO2 output (for example, with the red color) is a way to focus even more on breathing and avoid the appearance of alerts.
10. What kind of work is done from Psychotherapy?
First of all we carry out a psychoeducational task that reveals the mechanism of anxiety and panic attack. Understanding the "whys" is the first point to control its appearance .
As we explained, anxiety crisis is preceded by a series of negative thoughts more or less automatic and more or less unconscious. From Psychotherapy we do a job to learn to detect these thoughts, locate them (in what situations), as well as to know their essence and content (what is their meaning).
The identification of automatic thinking is what provides the basic knowledge to give power back to the individual. At the same time, the construction of new lines of thought that contemplate untested solutions and facilitate the resolution of conflicts, will be the training that broadens the range of resources and increases their management capacity.
11. What types of psychotherapy are useful for the treatment of anxiety?
One of the most used therapies for the treatment of anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, which has proven to be very effective in many investigations. It works especially well for the treatment of phobic disorders such as claustrophobia. In addition, in recent times, third-generation therapies such as Mindfulness or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have proven to be very effective.
12. Is it good to take drugs to treat anxiety?
Some drugs are indicated for the treatment of anxiety in severe cases; but nevertheless, they should not be taken as the only therapeutic option , but in combination with psychotherapy. In addition, anxiolytics or antidepressants should never be taken without the supervision of a specialist.
13. How do I stop taking medications for anxiety?
Many people can stop taking medications for anxiety or antidepressants without noticing withdrawal symptoms, especially if they do so under the supervision of a health professional. Other people, on the other hand, may experience some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. If you feel any symptoms that interfere with your ability to perform daily activities, you should talk to your doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist and present your case .