Anxiety and Panic Disorders: Interview with Dr. Patricia Farrell

Dr. Patricia Farrell; Image used with her permission.
Dr. Patricia Farrell

Overcoming Anxiety and Panic Disorders

If you suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, it may provide some comfort to know that your feelings are caused by the same physical response that occurs during periods of great joy or excitement. The only difference is that context determines your interpretation of your feelings. If you're committed to learning ways to "work off" these negative feelings, you can reprogram your brain into interpreting your responses as indicators of a positive situation.

Interview with Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D

As a licensed psychologist, author, and educator, Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D is a leading anxiety and panic disorders expert. She is the author of How to Be Your Own Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Back Your Life and the moderator of WebMD's Anxiety/Panic Board.

Dr. Farrell has agreed to answer LoveToKnow readers' questions about anxiety and panic disorders.

What causes anxiety and panic disorders?

"Anxiety is caused by both our genetic inheritance and early learning. The genetic inheritance leaves us vulnerable to experience anxiety and the early learning gives us a set of inadequate ways to cope with difficult situations. It also sets up in us, perhaps, rules or standards which are too high for anyone to follow and when we are challenged, we feel anxiety, which is really a form of terror. Being afraid in appropriate situations is helpful, but feeling that way in too many situations can leave us feeling inadequate and unable to respond."

How do you know if you're having an anxiety attack?

"There are several things: pounding heart, sweating, dizziness, a sudden need to go to the bathroom, or a general feeling of being afraid. Some people find it hard to breathe and fear they are going to die, go crazy, or have a heart attack."

What medications are best for treating anxiety and panic disorders?

"Medications are really a matter of what works best for you. The choices include beta blockers, anxiolytics, anticonvulsives, and SSRIs. Each group can be taken on an as needed basis, with the exception of the SSRIs which must be taken every day and can have disturbing side effects such as weight gain, hair loss, or decreased libidio."

Can you treat anxiety and panic disorders without prescription medication?

"Yes. The first thing that needs to be considered is whether or not your anxiety is caused by a medical condition. Then, you try self-help techniques such as relaxation breathing, guided imagery, and learning new ways to react to stressful situations. Diet, exercise, and adequate sleep also play an important role."

Can anxiety disorders ever be "cured"?

"Anxiety can be managed and does respond to self-help, cognitive therapy, and medication. Some people will contain it so successfully that it won't be a problem again. Others, possibly because of genetic inheritance, will need to continue self-help and medication."

How can online resources such as the WebMD Anxiety/Panic Board be useful to people suffering from anxiety disorders?

"WebMD's Anxiety/Panic Board provides a place for people to learn from others suffering from the same conditions. They get support, tips on ways to cope, expert answers to questions, and referrals to sites or information that can be helpful. It's a place where you are believed and where the members are committed to caring and sharing."

What can readers learn from How to Be Your Own Therapist?

"How to Be Your Own Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Back Your Life is a book intended to help you begin to help yourself. The assumption is that you don't have a serious, disabling psychiatric Addiction and Recovery Interviewsillness that requires medication, but, like others, you need to learn new ways to handle life's difficulties. The whole idea of the book is personal empowerment. Everyone has problems, not everyone has learned to handle them, and medication isn't the answer because medication can't teach you anything. The book is a guidebook to starting new patterns that are more helpful to you."

Anxiety and Panic Disorders: Interview with Dr. Patricia Farrell