Do you avoid certain people because you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself? Do you avoid airplanes, crowded events, or that new roller coaster because you fear a catastrophe? Do you ignore your dental office when they call to schedule an important treatment? You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common diagnosed mental illness in the United States, so let’s talk about overcoming fear and anxiety.
I was diagnosed with an anxiety/panic disorder at the young age of fourteen. I have a family history of such problems, and all it took was one incident to set it off into full effect.
What did my panic attacks look like? If I felt unsafe or was concerned for the safety of others, I would experience shortness of breath and chest pains, which would cause me to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation led to numbness of my hands and feet as well as dizziness. At times I would not be able to walk at all. It was truly crippling, but I was too young to understand what was happening or find a way to prevent the panic attacks.
Luckily my mom was supportive and never made me feel like I was crazy. She was always there to listen or just hold me during an episode. She sought help from my family physician and a therapist. She gave me books to read to help me understand what was happening. When I first was diagnosed with a panic disorder, I would have several episodes a day. Now, I never experience a full-blown panic attack like I used to. I do still experience anxiety if I’m going through a lot of stress, though.
There are different levels of anxiety. Although I am not a licensed mental health expert, I do have a lot of experience dealing with my own anxieties, and I have done research in the hope of understanding other people’s fears so that I may help them.
Here are a few steps I took to help overcome fear and anxiety:
- Identify my fear
- Talk about it (to family, friends, and professionals)
- Figure out the worst thing that could happen if my fear came true
- Have a solution for the worst-case scenario
- Then slowly associate myself with the subject of my fear, and eventually dive into situations that caused my anxiety
Of course, I had anxiety along the way and some panic attacks during the process, but I was able to realize that I survived then, and I will continue to face my fears and survive them.
It is of utmost importance to talk about your fears to the people closest to you whom you can trust. If you feel that you can’t talk about your fear or anxiety with someone close to you, find a respected social worker, therapist, or counselor. You can even reach out to any medical professional (even a great dental office is full of empathetic people who can help you through some tough times).
A true anxiety disorder is likely a life-long diagnosis and medication may be required. You may overcome one fear and the twists and turns of life will lead you to another. My hope is that you do not allow your fear or anxiety to keep you from experiencing joys in your life, like taking that promotion at work, gaining a sense of community with others, or getting that much needed medical treatment.
I wrote about this topic because I have come to realize many people (normal, happy, successful) are being treated for some form of mental illness. I form relationships with my patients and call many of them my friends. It is only natural for me to use my experiences to try to help them.
If you’re afraid of visiting the dentist, let us know how we can make the experience more comfortable for you. At our dental office we work hard to help our patients feel at ease when they are in our care.
We’re featuring stories and suggestions from the team members at Schumacher & Bauer, DDS in our new monthly blog series. You can view all posts in this series here.