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Fear is an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time throughout his or her life. Fear is part of a biological response to danger. This emotion was programmed into each human being eons ago through evolution to alert us to the presence of danger by releasing adrenaline into our bloodstream therefore causing heart palpitations, sweating, tremors, chest pain, and nausea or abdominal distress among other symptoms induced by adrenaline. Our body’s reaction to fear is called the flight or fight response, which alerts us to the presence of danger and enhances our chances of survival.
Some anxiety disorders which include fear as one of the symptoms experienced by patients are specific phobia disorder, social phobia disorder, and panic disorder. Patients who experience a persistent fear of objects or situations suffer from specific phobia disorder. Fear of animals or insects is very common. Some patients fear storms, water, or heights. Other patients fear seeing blood, an injury or undergoing a medical procedure. Specific situations that are feared by patients with a phobia include fear of enclosed places, fear of going through tunnels, or over bridges, fear of elevators, or flying and driving. Treatment of this kind of fear is accomplished by a visit or several visits to a therapist qualified to treat a person with phobias. A therapist may use behavioral therapy that might include systematic desensitization, where a patient learns to use relaxation techniques when he or she is gradually exposed to anxiety-producing stimuli. People who suffer from this type of disorder do recognize that their fears are excessive and irrational. “Social phobia is a disorder marked by a persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur,” as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The criteria for this disorder include, but are not limited to a fear of social situations, avoidance of such situations, and great apprehension or anxiety in anticipation of social or performance situations. This fear significantly interferes with a person’s relationships with other people, their social activities, and functioning level at work or school. Social phobia can lead to avoidance behavior. Meaning a person might avoid any social situation that makes them uncomfortable, and eventually becomes a homebody. The presence of panic attacks and fear of having another panic attack, called anticipatory anxiety characterize panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack are:
1. Heart palpitations
4. Smothering sensation
5. Stomache problems
7. Hot flashes
8. Feeling faint
9. Chest pain
10. Feelings of unreality
11. Fear of dying
12. Fear of losing control
13. Fear of going crazy
14. Tingling sensation
Intense fear often accompanies at least four or more of the symptoms. These symptoms come on abruptly or out of the blue and usually subside in ten minutes to two hours. One out of seventy people suffer from this illness. The cause of panic disorder is unknown. People experiencing a panic attack sometimes think they are having a heart attack, since the symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack are similar. Women are more likely to acquire this disorder than men are. Substance abuse and severe depression is very common in patients with PD. This illness is usually chronic but often cyclical in nature. Inability to work full time is also common. Many patients with PD are receiving disability payments and are unable to work at all.
Many famous men and women have or do suffer from an anxiety disorder. Charles Darwin was thought to have suffered from panic disorder. In a journal, Darwin (1809-1882) described his malady as a “Sensation of fear? accompanied by troubled beating of the heart, sweating, and trembling of muscles.” Other famous people with an anxiety disorder include Sigmund Freud, W.B Yeats, John Steinbeck, Sir Isaac Newton, and Kim Basinger, to name just a few.
Anxiety disorders are treatable with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Medications such as antidepressants (Paxil, Prozac, or Imipramine) and minor tranquilizers i.e.; Clonazepam, Valium, or Ativan are usually helpful. However, minor tranquilizers are habit forming. Relaxation therapy can also help. A competent psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health therapist who specialize in anxiety disorders can provide treatment.
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