Anxiety and Panic Attacks Becoming More Prevalent

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September 29, 2016 | 300,639 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Anxiety disorders — which include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and panic disorder — affect an estimated 40 million Americans, or about 18 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18
  • Genetics, brain chemistry, personality, life events and stress play a role in anxiety disorders. Anxiety is a normal response to stress but, in some, the anxiety becomes overwhelming and difficult to cope with
  • Other factors that can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks include cell phone use, food additives and artificial sweeteners, gut dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies, excessive sugar, improper breathing and toxic exposures such as mold

By Dr. Mercola

According to research1 published in 2015, anxiety (characterized by constant and overwhelming worry and fear) is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., now eclipsing all forms of cancer by 800 percent.

generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and panic disorder — may be as high as 40 million, or about 18 percent of the population over the age of 18, making it the most common mental illness in the nation.2,3

According to research by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, anxiety has also surpassed depression as the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem among college students, with more than 50 percent of students visiting campus clinics reporting anxiety.4

Novel Treatments Aimed at Anxiety-Ridden Students Prove Successful

Fortunately, there are many treatment options available, and some of the most effective treatments are also among the safest and least expensive, and don't involve drugs.

For example, many colleges are tackling the problem with high-tech solutions. University of Central Florida (UCF) is testing a new online app5 called Tao Connect for treating anxiety. It includes a seven-module cognitive behavioral program, and allows the student to conduct videoconferences with a therapist.

The program, developed with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), claims it can offer "effective treatment with one-third the counselor time and half the overall cost of traditional face-to-face individual treatment."

Dietary interventions to correct nutritional deficiencies and/or poor gut health can also be part of the answer, along with strategies to subdue stress, such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and breathing exercises.

Too bad the UCF program didn't incorporate highly effecting tapping like EFT, which is typically far more effective than sessions with conventional therapists.

What Causes Anxiety?

The widespread prevalence of anxiety garnered headlines when popular actress Kristen Stewart confessed to severe anxiety and panic attacks following her rapid rise to stardom following the hit "Twilight" series.6

While genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events play a role in the development of anxiety disorders, stress is a common trigger. Public scrutiny is certainly cause for heightened stress, but just about any type of stress can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks.

Anxiety is a normal response to stress, but in some people the anxiety becomes overwhelming and difficult to cope with, to the point that it affects their day-to-day living. The brain is also actively involved. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains:7

"Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety … scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.

The amygdala … is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals. It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response.

The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders or flying. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories."

A number of other situations and underlying issues can also contribute to the problem. This includes but is not limited to the following, and addressing these issues may be what's needed to resolve your anxiety disorder. For more information about each, please follow the hyperlinks:

Exposure to cell phones, and nonnative electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequencies (RF)

Food additives, food dyes, GMOs and glyphosate.

Food dyes of particular concern include Blue #1 and #2 food coloring; Green #3; Orange B; Red #3 and #40; Yellow #5 and #6; and the preservative sodium benzoate

Gut dysfunction caused by imbalanced microflora

Lack of magnesium, vitamin D8 and/or animal-based omega-3.

(Research has shown a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3s9)

Use of artificial sweeteners

Excessive consumption of sugar and junk food

Improper breathing

Exposure to toxic mold

Understanding Panic Attacks

The conventional treatment for most anxiety disorders typically involves some kind of prescription drug. What's worse, many times, that's the extent of the treatment options offered. This is why it's so important to educate yourself about the potential sources of your disorder, and investigate your options.

Anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines, or "benzos," which include Ativan, Xanax and Valium, are a poor solution and come with many potentially serious risks, including memory loss, hip fractures and addiction. Up to 43 percent of older adults use benzodiazepines for anxiety and insomnia, often chronically, even though their long-term effectiveness and safety remain unproven.

People who take these drugs are nearly four times more likely to die prematurely than people who don't, and also have a 35 percent greater risk of cancer. There is also evidence that benzodiazepine use by older adults results in a 50 percent higher risk for dementia.

Overdose Deaths From Anxiety Drugs Are on the Rise

Prescriptions for benzos tripled from 1996 to 2013, but this doesn't fully account for the uptick in overdoses from these drugs, which quadrupledduring that time period.22 The authors speculate that people may be using benzodiazepines in riskier ways, such as taking higher doses or taking them for longer periods of time, both of which increase your risk of overdosing.

Benzodiazepines exert a calming effect by boosting the action of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), in the same way as opioids (heroin) and cannabinoids (cannabis). This in turn activates the gratification hormone, dopamine, in your brain. Taking anti-anxiety medications over time can result in addiction or physical dependence, and getting off of them can be a major challenge.

"Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome" is characterized by panic, insomnia, sweating, vomiting, seizures, muscular pain and a plethora of other symptoms that can persist for up to two weeks.23 In the video above, people across the globe shared their stories about how benzodiazepine drugs, taken as prescribed, led to serious side effects and harm.

Remember, You Have Options

Considering the risks, I would urge you to look at drugs as a last resort rather than a first-line of treatment. Far safer strategies to explore include exercise, EFT, breathing exercises, optimizing your gut flora and correcting any nutritional imbalances, such as lack of magnesium, vitamin D or animal-based omega-3. You can also try acupuncture,24 which like EFT bridges the gap between your mind and body.

Also lower your sugar and processed food intake, be sure to get plenty of restorative sleep, and be mindful of your exposure to EMFs and use of wireless technologies. At bare minimum, avoid keeping any of these gadgets next to you while sleeping. Also evaluate whether you might be exposed to toxins. A common symptom of toxic mold exposure is anxiety, so ask yourself if there's any kind of pattern; do your symptoms improve when you spend time away from your home or office, for example?

You can also try out cognitive behavioral programs. A number of universities now offer Tao Connect25 to their students, but even if you're not a student, there are free online programs available that you can use. Some examples include MoodGYM,26 e-couch,27 Learn to Live28 and CBT Online.29 Anxiety and panic attacks can significantly reduce your quality of life, so it's well worth it to keep going until you find a lasting solution.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 The CBHSQ Report, May 21, 2015
  • 2, Anxiety Disorder Statistics
  • 3, 15 Anxiety and Depression Association of America
  • 4 New York Times May 27, 2015
  • 5, 25 TAO Connect
  • 6 Hindustan Times September 13, 2016
  • 7 National Institute of Mental Health, What is Anxiety Disorder?
  • 8, More Vitamin D, Less Anxiety?
  • 9 Brain Behav Immun November 2011;25(8):1725-34
  • 10 Epoch Times March 3, 2016
  • 11, Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind - Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness
  • 12  Buteyko Clinic, Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind, Free Chapters
  • 13 Buteyko Clinic Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind, Book, Course and Audio
  • 14 Medical Daily August 29, 2016
  • 16 Review of General Psychology, December 2012; 16(4): 364-380
  • 17 Huffington Post May 14, 2013
  • 18 Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease February 2013; 201(2): 153-160
  • 19 Tapping the Matrix
  • 20 Lissa Rankin April 15, 2013
  • 21  Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease October 2012;200(10):891-6
  • 22 American Journal of Public Health February 18, 2016
  • 23 Addiction November 1994 Nov;89(11):1455-9
  • 24 Epoch Times July 24, 2016
  • 26 MoodGYM
  • 27 e-couch
  • 28
  • 29 CBT Online