Lessening anxiety: A key to unlocking greater health

LEFT unchecked, anxiety can spiral into an uncontrollable monster.

The disorder presents symptoms that may range from heart palpitations and difficulty breathing, to a sudden breakout in perspiration, feelings of dread, and mental confusion.

While anxiety describes a feeling of nervousness or worry, when those feelings persist even in the absence of the thing causing the anxiety, then anxiety may lead to a disorder.

Dr Julian Walters, a leading adult and child psychiatrist at the Fairview Medical Centre in Montego Bay, St James, reports that approximately 40 per cent of Jamaican children struggle with depression and anxiety, triggered by abuse. It is not difficult to see these young ones maturing into adults, carrying with them a bigger baggage as they deal with another round of anxiety challenges.

The figures are spiking on the world scene, because according to the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older…in a given year”.

When one member suffers an anxiety disorder, the entire family is affected. Due to leading research in the field, NIMH affirms that “effective therapies for anxiety disorders are available, and research is uncovering new treatments that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives”.

One should get a proper diagnosis in order to access correct treatment and advice, since, at the end of the day, lesser anxiety unleashes the potential to greater health.

Could one of the following anxiety disorders affect you?

Understanding anxiety disorders is vital, especially when the people involved are immediate family members or close friends. How much do you know? Consider five types of such disorders, and what some have done to cope.

Panic disorders

Not only do anxiety attacks cripple, but in-between the attacks, there is the constant dread that an attack is going to happen again.

True, sufferers tend to avoid places where the attack was triggered, even becoming so restricted they remain housebound with many times a fear to confront the place triggering the anxiety, unless accompanied by a trusted family member or friend.

Some sufferers explain that merely being alone can trigger an attack, and have attested to the fact that a close family member or friend does provide security — even helping them to face the situation or the place causing the anxiety.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Individuals obsessed with germs or dirt could become victims to a compulsion to wash their hands on a repeated basis.

One OCD sufferer describes his mind as being in a state of constant turmoil, rehashing past mistakes, dissecting them, reanalysing them, and looking at them from every possible angle imaginable. He constantly wants to confess past mistakes to others, and as such, mentions that he is in constant need of reassurance.

Medication has also been of help in controlling his obsession.

Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD)

In recent times, this term has come to capture a host of psychological symptoms people suffer after an event of extreme traumatic proportions, usually occasioning physical harm or such, like threat. PTSD sufferers tend to be easily frightened, become irritable, numb emotionally, lack interest in the things they once considered enjoyable, even having trouble expressing or feeling affection for others with whom they were once close.

Not to be overlooked is the violence or aggression some develop, often tending to avoid situations that bring to mind the original traumatic incident. Many sufferers have benefited from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing the thought patterns and processes responsible for disturbing the mind.

Just talking about the trauma or verbalising where your fears come from with a therapist may provide relief. For anxiety on the whole, never underestimate the power of breathing and relaxing techniques, while endeavouring to get proper rest and moderate exercise.

You may just be surprised, too, how powerful regularly drinking water is for general well-being.

Social phobia or social anxiety disorder

This term describes the feelings of those who undergo overwhelming anxiety, coupled with being overly self-conscious in day-to-day social situations. Some sufferers mention a strong and persistent fear that others looking on are doing so with watching and judging eyes.

The thought of attending an event may occasion great worry, days or weeks leading up to the event. The severity of social phobia disorder or social anxiety disorder is such that it may interfere with work, school or normal day-to-day activities — easily causing them to strain relationships with friends.

CBT has proven an effective treatment, and some doctors recommend antidepressants. Bear in mind though, that your body may take some time to respond to such medication, and since there may be side effects, it may take a little time to find the medication that gives the right fit for your body.

Generalised anxiety disorder

Those who suffer with this disorder tend to be on the lookout for disasters, even when there is no need to, and express an over preoccupation with health issues, money, family problems, or difficulties at work.

It takes something as simple as the thought of getting through the day to produce anxiety. Worries tend to be exaggerated even, as mentioned, with little or nothing to provoke them. Psychotherapy and talk therapy have yielded good results as worry-managing techniques, again with a balance of medication.

While following up with medical treatment is advised after the diagnosis, do not underestimate how critical it is to get family and friends on board whose understanding touch may enhanced coping skills. A listening ear may make a world of a difference and, for sure, kind words and a gentle, understanding tone show deep care while averting hurtful insinuations.

Since anxiety attacks from the level of the mind, it is of utmost importance to constantly train the mind, or have it trained with positive thoughts, while endeavouring to come to terms with or purging oneself of negativity.

Even if you do not suffer from severe anxiety disorder, do remember that it is your responsibility to try to keep your anxiety levels in check since, if left unmonitored, it can escalate into a disorder. And, having a working knowledge of anxiety and its disorders is crucial in case we or a family member fall victim.

Remember, even if we do not suffer with such disorders and a family member does, that in itself may be a source of increased anxiety for us if we do not endeavour to help the person access the needed assistance.

Many have suffered from different levels of anxiety, yet are determined to live and are living healthy, normal lives. So can you!


Warrick Lattibeaudiere (PhD), a minister of religion for the past 22 years, lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica.