On Wednesday past, I was driving home from work, when I was led to telephone a relative. She answered the phone in an excitable manner and this prompted me to ask if all was well. She disclosed that she was currently in the emergency room of a local hospital, explaining how she felt she was dying. According to her, she had not been regularly sleeping, was feeling overwhelmed, dizziness, shortness of breath, pain in her arms and chest pains. She had an Electrocardiogram (heart test), which was normal, and was awaiting the results from a blood panel. I encouraged her to take deep breaths and patiently wait; I further informed her, that based on the symptoms described and my knowledge of her present situation, it sounded like she was experiencing an acute panic attack.
Panic attacks are generally brought on by excessive anxiety. Anxiety Disorders, though very common, can often be under-recognized and under- treated. These disorders are characterized by extreme fretfulness, fear and disturbances in behavior. People experiencing these symptoms can often feel very afraid and may perceive their imminent deaths.
Anxiety Disorders include Social Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety, Specific Phobias, Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (DSM -5). Factors that are attributed to Anxiety Disorders include genetics, biopsychosocial factors, trauma and stress. The treatment for Anxiety Disorders, generally include a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.
The relative described above, is currently pursuing an intense academic program and it is approaching the end of the spring semester. She has several scholarly papers, presentations and final examinations, that are all due within the next three weeks. She is extremely stressed and has been given a strict prescription to ensure a successful semester’s end. Her symptoms were not life threatening, even though it felt that way to her.
Anxiety, like any other psychological disorder, should always be taken seriously. Even if there is limited understanding of what is being described and felt, we should never minimize what people are experiencing. Someone who is extremely fearful could become harmful to self or others. We must continue to educate ourselves about the things that make and keep us healthy, as well as, what to do if things go awry. Let us continue to show care and sensitivity to all, assisting where ever we are able.
~ Dr. Pam
POINT TO PONDER: Sometimes we have to slow down to speed up.
• Askdoctorpam is a column that appears in this journal every week. Your letters and comments are encouraged. You may email your letters or comments to askdoctorpam. Dr. Pam is a Clinical Psychologist trained in all areas of mental health.