Mother works from home to takes care of daughter.

Communicating with Someone with Anxiety  

Each year, 18% of adults in the U.S. experience an anxiety disorder. However, less than 40% of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment. Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways physically – but a key function that is disrupted is a person’s ability to communicate clearly. Anxiety can cause someone to overthink, get easily distracted and become overwhelmed by someone’s nonverbal cues and facial expressions instead of paying attention to what the person is saying.  

Anxiety can be a natural stress response to fear. It can be an indicator of disease when these feelings become excessive and interfere with daily living. For example, generalized anxiety disorder is a diagnosable condition in which a person worries much more than normal about everyday things.  

Navigating Changes  

Changes in life can cause anxiety and stress. For someone with existing anxiety or panic, changes can be particularly debilitating and can trigger a relapse or regression.   

Here are some techniques that can help: 

  • Deep breathing: Take long, deep breaths. Breathe in for four counts, hold the breath for six counts, and exhale for eight counts.  
  • Journal: Write down what’s causing the anxiety. Ask: “what is the worst thing that could happen? What’s the probability of it happening?” It’s very likely none of the worst-case scenarios will happen.  
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can calm an anxious mind.  
  • Yoga and stretching: The combination of breathing and stretching can provide a sense of calm and relaxation.  
  • Avoid caffeine: Too much caffeine can mimic feelings of anxiety or panic.  

Panic Attacks 

A panic attack is a sudden episode when intense fear can trigger a severe physical reaction. At times, panic attacks can be confused with heart attacks because the symptoms are so strong. Here are some of the signs of a panic attack:  

  • Abdominal cramps 
  • Chest pain  
  • Chills or hot flashes  
  • Difficulty breathing  
  • Feeling detached 

When to Seek Help 

Anxiety and panic attacks can be difficult to manage alone. Over time, severe anxiety and chronic stress can worsen other health aspects such as blood pressure and diabetes management. While panic attacks aren’t necessarily dangerous, their symptoms can mimic the symptoms of other serious health issues – so it’s important to see a health care provider for both physical and mental health reasons.  

Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

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