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Anxiety disorders in our house are more common than a cold. From both sides our family, there are anxiety problems. In each of my children, me, and my husband, it manifests itself in different ways over the years. It is hereditary, and it is physiological and chemical rather than mental — even though that’s how it presents itself.

Take daughter #4: She has had panic attacks at least since high school, but they’ve worsened since then. They’re not a daily thing, but out of nowhere, without an obvious trigger, they strike her with fear, and anxiety — panic. She has learned ways to offset one when it strikes, but it’s scary and pretty hard when she’s unprepared when it strikes out of the blue.

And there’s the problem. Anxiety seems to be a brain “disorder”. A lack of chemical which cause an imbalance, and therefore bizarre or troubling behavior. Three of us take medication to a lesser and greater degree, to help with the symptoms. Sometimes that’s just necessary. I think we’ve all had counseling, but my son didn’t stick with it long. (Men!)

Daughter #1 has had it the longest, probably since she was a toddler, though we were unaware of this possibility, and thought she was just terribly shy. She did make the adjustment to school, and it kind of subsided, though there were always times when she get panicked about something — like playing a solo in band — to the point that her heart raced, she was red in the face, and felt ill. Another of her fears: throwing up or passing out in public. That struck with full force when she went to college and the dorm situation was difficult.

She’s learned that if you’re panicking, the last thing you’re likely to do is pass out because your body is on high alert. She’s never fainted or thrown up and that made it easier for her to accept behavioral therapy. Knowing more about the physiological side of the body’s response to panic, and practicing the techniques she’s been given, have helped her, though she’ll probably be using them the rest of her life!

Daughter #3 became agoraphobic in college, and realized that was way too weird, and sought behavioral therapy. She also took medication for a while, and overcame that particular phobia.

Still, like me and my son, she has generalized anxiety. That’s a hard one, because it’s something that nags at you frequently. It lets your mind go to strange places and imagine the worst. Or you are unable to control your thoughts — that is to sort out ideas  and make decisions. There just all this chatter and a constant feeling of uneasiness, or hyperactivity, and it’s hard to settle down and accomplish or even begin anything. Some days I feel like a whirling dervish — I can’t focus enough to get even the smallest tasks done. I’m medicated, and that helps me a lot. I’ve also do yoga, and that provides me with focus and and calm. Self-talk has been very useful, too. I just tell myself what to do, and follow my own instructions. That Nike “Just do it” slogan is one of my favorites. The effort of throwing myself into some task can be a great help (even if it’s just cleaning the bathrooms), because the energy I’m using on trying to sort out what’s in my head, is refocused into something worthwhile or at least diverting.

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. We even get panicked if we have to give a speech or make a presentation. But when anxiety in one of its forms interferes with your day-to-day life, like ours, or my brother-in-law’s OCD, that’s not normal and demands medical or psychological attention. I hope we’re past the stage when going to a psychiatrist carries a stigma, because living normally is much more important than worrying about what others may think.