Be Well, Marsha 3/15/16

The mental tornado

By Marsha Bonhart

I recently met with a young woman I have known for several years who told me in casual conversation what I had suspected: she has an anxiety disorder. What I didn’t know and what she explained to me is she has been prescribed Prozac, a common medication treatment for anxiety. Here’s what else I discovered: from the time a girl reaches puberty until about the age of 50, she is twice as likely as a man to have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders also occur earlier in women than in men.

I have learned more from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. For instance, differences in brain chemistry may account for at least part of these dissimilarities. The brain system involved in the fight-or-flight response is activated more readily in women and stays activated longer than men, partly as a result of the action of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

The neurotransmitter serotonin may also play a role in how women respond to stress and anxiety. Some evidence suggests that the female brain does not process serotonin as quickly as the male brain. Recent research has found that women are more sensitive to low levels of the hormone, CRF, which organizes stress responses in mammals, making women twice as vulnerable as men to stress-related disorders.

Gymnastics trampoline world champion Kristie Lowell compares her anxiety to any other chronic disorder. Along with medication, she has developed ways to deflect her panic attacks resulting from anxiety. “I surround myself with positive people who believe in me as an athlete,” she wrote in an article for the ADAA. “I learned that yelling triggers my panic, so finding a coach who doesn’t yell that much made a huge difference. Luckily, I have excellent coaches who understand my condition.”

Lowell says she says what she thinks out loud, but when she forgets to do that, her anxiety takes over. She has to remember to talk to herself while practicing. Another calming technique she uses is thinking of her cat sleeping next to her. This is a skill she uses to outline her mental preparation. At one point, before medication and her self-developed strategies, Lowell would cry at practice every day because she had mental blocks. Rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing and chest pain are all symptoms of anxiety and can happen anywhere without a recognizable trigger.

Lacey Michaels, in an article for LifeScript, tells us anxiety can actually be used as a benefit—especially when we think of how we respond to a test or a project. We work harder to better ourselves for those results. But for women, anxiety can be compounded when family responsibilities are added. Trouble sleeping and physical aches and pains can result from that kind of tension and stress.

“There was a time when basic things—like driving, climbing a flight of stairs, taking a shower or going through the checkout line at the grocery store—landed me somewhere between mortal unease and full-throttle terror,” author Rita Zoey Chin shares in ADAA.  “It all began with a single panic attack that seemed to strike out of the blue. Mistaking it for a heart attack, I called an ambulance, but I quickly learned that there is no ambulance for an alarm of the mind.”

Chin says other attacks came—pounding heart, tunnel vision, an inexplicable fear for her life. She even panicked in her sleep. So, she began to retreat from confined or open spaces, crowds and highway driving. She described going from a fully functioning adult with a family and career to a “trembling wreck” who could barely function.

It is suggested that behavioral therapies combined with prescribed medications can produce long-term changes. It has been documented if there is consistent success with these combinations, some patients can actually stop taking the meds. The behavioral therapy takes longer to be effective and can even be somewhat stressful for anxiety sufferers but is credited with making a change for the better.

Only you know when your mind and body are imbalanced. Your lifestyle will improve and you can be a much happier, more fulfilled person if you learn to live with your anxiety rather than allowing it to control you. What you worry about can be managed, but talk with a doctor who will help create the most effective means to benefit your unique issue. If you are seeing a doctor for the first time, be honest about any medical condition that you may have or medications you are already taking.

Be well,


For more information about finding a therapist for anxiety, its causes, symptoms and treatments, please contact the ADAA at 240.485.1001 or visit

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at

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