by Ginger Wishner, MFT
(This article is a reprint from a "Dear Ginger" mental health column in the La Jolla Light.)
Dear Ginger: I suffer from anxiety and fear of having a heart attack and/or dying. Every now and then, my heart will "flutter," and I think that's it.
I was checked out thoroughly by a cardiologist. Do you experience many people with these same fears and anxieties?
- Thank You, AP
Thank you for your question and concern about your situation. You are ahead of the game in just knowing what your condition is caused by: anxiety and fear. Most people who have physical symptoms such as the ones you're describing don't know or can't believe they are caused by anxiety and fear.
So, first off, congratulations for pursuing a medical workup and acknowledging that you have anxiety and fear. The first step to change is awareness. Without it, we can do nothing to change or improve our circumstances.
Yes, I do work with people who have similar fears and symptoms and with people who have a different constellation of symptoms. Everyone is unique in configuration and symptomology.
Anxiety, fear and panic are very common in our society and in mental health practices. You are not alone and have nothing to be ashamed of. Anxiety, fear and depression are very treatable conditions with a variety of different treatment approaches that are effective in resolving symptoms. You can learn to live effectively without feelings of impending doom.
The most common treatment is called cognitive/behavioral, which teaches you that your thoughts cause your feelings, which in turn affect your behavior. This usually involves negative thinking that is out of your consciousness and quickly turns into "what if" worries, and anticipating fearful or negative consequences.
This thinking is so automatic and deeply buried that your mind acts like a most powerful computer automatically spiraling downward until these thoughts take over and begin ruling your behavior. This usually involves avoidance of uncomfortable and/or fearful activities and begins to constrict your life.
I use a self-help program called "Attacking Anxiety and Depression" that you work on at home, supplemented by individual counseling/coaching sessions. I find that most people need the support and accountability in initially learning how to overcome these ingrained behaviors. I also can then monitor your symptoms and make other recommendations as necessary.
The Internet, bookstores and telephone directories have many listings and information on anxiety, depression and phobia treatment options.
The main thing is to find professionals who specialize in this area. You need to feel comfortable with the treatment they recommend, and feel comfortable with them and their treatment style.
The sooner you get help, the better. As I mentioned before, these symptoms and behaviors can easily build up and really affect the quality of your life, including your peace of mind, besides your normal activities.
Ginger Wishner, MFT