Are you anxiety-attack-proof?

Published: 07 May, 2013 04:56 IST | Dhara Vora |

We were left speechless at Tony Stark's tech suaveness and genius mind as Iron Man in the third edition of the series. Yet, we couldn't ignore how the affable superhero found it tough to fight off his anxiety attacks. Anxiety, as it turns out, commonly plagues a sizeable chunk of the urban Indian population. Dhara Vora and Soma Das look at the telltale signs and spell out ways to combat it

He warded off an evil demi god and mechanical worms that threatened to destroy New York City. But a mention of it coupled with the problems of the vicious Aldrich Killian left Tony Stark with heavy breathing, palpitations, lack of awareness of his surroundings, nightmares and other such signs, which one wouldn’t doesn’t typically associate with a superhero. Urban lifestyle and work stress have led to the rise of anxiety and panic attacks (as portrayed in Iron Man 3) among people, and if not treated or diagnosed the right way, it can wreck havoc in one’s personal and social life.

Even superheroes need help! In the most recent edition of the Iron Man series, Robert Downey Jr who plays the role of Tony Stark is seen as a vulnerable human being, prone to frequent anxiety attacks, despite his genius mind

Anxious moments
“There are people who are anxious by personality (personality types such as avoiding personality, obsessive personality and dependent personality) and there and people who develop anxiety due to their environments. For example, children with alcoholic fathers will always see uncertainty in their lives, where thoughts about when the father will beat his mother next or where would the family’s income come from, constantly plague the mind. Even those with anxious parents can lead to developing anxiety in the long run. What usually lands people in the hospital or for treatment are panic attacks,” reasons psychiatrist, Dr Anjali Chhabria.

Fellow psychiatrist Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla says that panic attacks are on the rise in the city and often, lands people in the ICU when it’s misdiagnosed for a cardiac or a blood pressure-related condition. “Panic attacks are a severe attack of anxiety where a person feels that they are about to die. It’s symptoms are similar to heart attacks and it’s accompanied with thumping sensation in the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath and perspiration,” he says. He adds that triggers for the attacks could be crowded or enclosed places and heights. “I had a patient who was a musician who wouldn’t go abroad due to such fears which would trigger panic attacks. For years he did not travel anywhere. After proper treatment, he has now overcome the disorder,” he states.

Prone to panic attacks
Chhabria says that the body suffers from a neuro-hormonal imbalance, which needs to be treated with the right medicine. “The test results after a panic attack would appear normal, and your family physician would give you some pills to calm you down. But someone suffering form an anxiety disorder would just get addicted to those pills as it provides temporary and symptomatic relief. One needs to visit a psychiatrist for counselling and to sort out the imbalance. We have had patients, whom we would have to treat for their pill addictions,” warns Chhabria. Once identified, it would be a matter of three to six weeks to improve the condition. Some patients even resort to alcohol when not treated on time, as alcohol helps calm anxiety. The family of the person suffering from anxiety also needs to learn how to cope with it in the right way.

Different levels of anxiety
Dr Matcheswalla explains that there are levels in anxiety attacks including simple anxiety, social anxiety and severe anxiety. Aside from panic attacks, there are variants of anxiety attacks including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and phobias. There are physical as well as psychological effects of the same. The physical effects include tremors, palpitation, headache and dizziness while the psychological effects are forgetfulness, stressfulness, a feeling of impending doom, and negative thoughts.

A genetic predisposition could be a major cause of such attacks. “During the 1993 riots in Mumbai, pregnant women who witnessed those attacks often gave birth to children who experienced anxiety attacks. But it also depends on the nature and personality of the person,” Dr Matcheswalla observes.

“There was this CEO of a company who had a panic attack on flight. Due to this, he associated it with flying and never took a plane; there were instance when the plane had an emergency landing so he could get off. In such cases, people start associating panic attacks with a particular incidence, and hamper their social lives. There was another incident when a patient jumped off a running train during a panic attack,” says Chhabria.

Lifestyle also plays a major role in anxiety attacks. “A sedentary lifestyle, being homebound or leading a sedentary lifestyle within a restricted environment could also cause the attacks. Other aggravators include alcohol, smoking, certain ingredients present in fast food, consumption of Ajinomoto (found in Chinese food), aerated drinks, coffee, weight loss proteins and so on,” he reminds us.

Anxiety in children
It’s not only adults who suffer from anxiety. Chhbaria says that bed-wetting, eating disorders, nail biting and even thumb sucking can be signs of anxiety among children.

Anxiety and relationships
“I have had to counsel a couple where both of the partners suffered from different types of anxiety, the boy was obsessive and the girl was generally anxious. Hence whenever they had an argument it would never get settled, to the extent of leading to the breakdown of the relationship. To cope with it, we had to treat them to handle their own anxiety. Also sexual performance anxiety and premature ejaculation are signs of anxiety and can affect a relationship,” Chhabria points out. Dr Matcheswalla advises people to cultivate a healthy lifestyle to beat the disorder. “Sleep deprivation is a major cause of anxiety attacks. People must ensure they get adequate sleep and avoid substance abuse, junk food, intoxicants, and cold drinks. Outdoor physical activity such as yoga, having an active lifestyle and a dose of socialisation scan also help. People must learn to connect and communicate. Learn to also face the issue rather than avoiding it,” he sums up.

Tracking The Anxiety Graph
>> 7% of the population suffers from mental disorders.
>> The World Bank report (1993) revealed that the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) loss due to neuro-psychiatric disorder is much higher than diarrhea, malaria, worm infestations and tuberculosis if taken individually. Together these disorders account for 12% of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD: the total cost treating diseases in the world) and an analysis of trends indicates this will increase to 15% by 2020 (World Health Report, 2001).
>> One in four families is likely to have at least one member with a behavioral or mental disorder (WHO 2001). Most (90%) remain untreated.

Source: National Institute of Health and Family Welfare     

Did you know?
> The Government of India has launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982, to ensure the availability of minimum mental healthcare for all, to encourage the application of mental health knowledge in general healthcare and to promote community participation in the mental health service development.
> The Ministry Of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has been printing social messages pertaining to suicide on the back of railway tickets. It emphasises on how depression needs to be treated immediately, its symptoms, myths and the facts related to it.

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