Kelly Hill, M.A.  Psychotherapist - 303-834-0394
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experience. But when panic and anxiety symptoms escalate into anxiety attacks and panic attacks, it may be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. There is excellent treatment for anxiety attacks, as well as panic attack symptoms, including medication and psychotherapy.

Anxiety may be caused by a mental condition or a physical condition. The effects of anxiety may also be caused from drugs, or from a combination of these. The doctor's initial task is to see if your anxiety is caused by a medical condition.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: (taken from
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a pattern of frequent, constant worry and anxiety over many different activities and events.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common condition. Genes may play a role. Stress may also contribute to the development of GAD.Anyone can develop this disorder, even kids. Most people with the disorder report that they have been anxious for as long as they can remember. GAD occurs somewhat more often in women than in men.

The main symptom is the almost constant presence of worry or tension, even when there is little or no cause. Worries seem to float from one problem to another, such as family or relationship problems, work issues, money, health, and other problems. Even when aware that their worries or fears are stronger than needed, a person with GAD still has difficulty controlling them. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Problems falling or staying asleep, and sleep that is often restless and unsatisfying
  • Restlessness, and often becoming startled very easily

Along with the worries and anxieties, a number of physical symptoms may also be present, including muscle tension (shakiness, headaches) and stomach problems, such as nausea or diarrhea.

Panic Disorder:

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which you have repeated attacks of intense fear that something bad will occur when not expected.

The cause is unknown. Genetics may play a role. Studies suggest that if one identical twin has panic disorder, the other twin will also develop the condition 40% of the time. However, panic disorder often occurs when there is no family history.

Panic disorder is twice as common in women as in men. Symptoms usually begin before age 25, but may occur in the mid 30s. Although panic disorder may occur in children, it is often not diagnosed until they are older.


A panic attack begins suddenly, and most often peaks within 10 - 20 minutes. Some symptoms may continue for an hour or more. A panic attack may be mistaken for a heart attack.
Panic attacks may include anxiety about being in a situation where an escape may be difficult (such as being in a crowd or traveling in a car or bus).
A person with panic disorder often lives in fear of another attack, and may be afraid to be alone or far from medical help.
People with panic disorder have at least four of the following symptoms during an attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or impending doom
  • Feeling of choking
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face
  • Palpitations, fast heart rate, or pounding heart
  • Sensation of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Sweating, chills, or hot flashes
  • Trembling or shaking

Common symptoms and causes of anxiety include these physical and mental conditions:

In addition to anxiety, common symptoms of panic disorders are palpitations (feeling your heart beat), dizziness, and shortness of breath. These same symptoms also can be caused by coffee (caffeine), amphetamines  ("speed" is the street slang for amphetamines when they are not prescribed by a doctor), an overactive thyroid,  abnormal heart rhythms, and other heart abnormalities.

Anxiety may be caused by a mental condition, a physical condition, the effects of drugs, or from a combination of these. The doctor's initial task is to see if your anxiety is caused by a medical condition.

These common external factors can cause anxiety:

  • Stress at work/school
  • Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage/partnership
  • Financial stress
  • Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
  • Stress from a serious medical illness
  • Side effect of medication
  • Use of an illicit drug, such as cocaine


The goal of treatment is to help you function well during day-to-day life.  Medications can be an important temporary part of treatment for some people. It is important that once you start them, you do not suddenly stop taking them without talking with your health care provider. Medications that may be used include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually the first choice in medications. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another choice.
  • Other antidepressants and some antiseizure drugs may be used for severe cases.
  • Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and  lorazepam (Ativan) may be used if antidepressants don't help enough with symptoms. Long-term dependence on these drugs can be a concern.

Avoiding caffeine, illicit drugs, and even some cold medicines may also help reduce symptoms. A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, enough rest, and good nutrition can help reduce the impact of anxiety.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you understand your behaviors and how to gain control of them. During this type of therapy you will learn how to:

  • Understand and gain control of your distorted views of life stressors, such as other people's behavior or life events.
  • Recognize and replace panic-causing thoughts, decreasing the sense of helplessness.
  • Manage stress and relax when symptoms occur.
  • Avoid thinking that minor worries will develop into very bad problems.

Many doctors and therapists are taking a more holistic approach to treating anxiety disorders. The use of mindfulness meditation and somatic phychotherapies have proven in studies to be quite effective at reducing and managing anxiety symptoms either together with medication or in place of medication.  

The combination of Eastern medicine in conjunction with Western techniques has created an increased interest in a holistic approach to treatment. Holistic alternative methods such as shamata meditation, ti chi, various forms of yoga, Reiki and chi gong are affective complementary and alternative therapies. Holism is an approach that combines traditional and alternative medicine to trigger the ability of the body to heal it self naturally.  This means the patient gets the benefit of integrated medicine that helps prevent disease and promotes overall wellness.

The uniqueness of a holistic or transpersonal approach in medicine and counseling lies in its method of treatment which includes the individual’s mind, body and spirit. It takes a look into the daily routine in the life of the person, so that they may make healthy choices that help them work towards a better sense of well being.

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