Pirates, Ogres and Anxiety

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • Over a recent holiday weekend, I found myself at the movies for the first time in a while. It takes no real genius to figure out which movies I enjoyed (yes, the latest Pirates of the Caribbean and the new Shrek).

    I did have a kind of odd reaction to one of the films, though—one I’m not used to having in this setting. I couldn’t stop shaking my leg or chewing on my fingernail, and I was sweating and kept having to force myself to calm down and sit still. Even at 49, if my mother had been there, she would have been forced to use the deadly “mommy death grip” on my upper arm (you know, that firm pressure that Mom uses to say “calm down” without saying a word … or, is ours the only family that used this technique?).

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    I was also emotionally flattened when I got out of the theater after seeing this particular film. Love it or hate it, I’m clear that I had a pretty bad anxiety reaction. 

    I may have mentioned before that, for me, loud noises can be triggers. Well, loud noises, lots of violence and sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers are  most definitely triggers. So, I have to add these to my list of triggers and figure out how best to deal with them in the future. For me, I think action films will have to become DVD fare, when I can pause the adventure and take it in small enough bites to make it exciting—instead of painful.

    Anxiety is a pretty often a “traveling companion” of my illness. Let me go on record as saying that I’m not a happy camper about this. I’d rather be sad or irritable than anxious any day. There certainly are worse things, but anxiety is nothing to take lightly.

    A recent DBSA survey tells us that 87 percent of participants said they either had a diagnosed anxiety disorder or an undiagnosed problem with anxiety. Those findings echo the Bipolar Genetics Initiative study conducted by NIMH in 2006 that found that more than 90 percent of people with panic disorder also had some form of depression or bipolar disorder.

    Respondents with both depressive and anxiety diagnoses cited generalized anxiety disorder (68%), panic disorder (57%) and PTSD (30%) as the most common anxiety conditions. Since some people are diagnosed with more than one anxiety disorder, the survey allowed for multiple answers. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported that their anxiety and mood disorders were related. Forty-three percent said their anxiety worsened their depressive illness, while 30 percent reported the opposite.

    When asked about triggers that worsened their anxiety, survey respondents most commonly cited disrupted sleep patterns (57%), stressful social situations (51%) and being in crowded areas (43%). Other anxiety-inducing situations included workplace pressures, familial problems and special occasions, like holidays and birthdays.

    If anxiety is an issue for you, you may want to join me at the upcoming DBSA 2007 National Conference in August in Orlando. There’s a workshop entitled “Anxiety: Trigger and Symptom” that will discuss this condition that is extremely prevalent in individuals living with mood disorders. Anxiety often wields the double-edged sword of being both a trigger and symptom of our illnesses. This conference session will explore this and suggest constructive ways to lessen the severity and frequency of anxiety.

  • DBSA’s survey goes on to say that, while less than half of respondents (43%) felt confident that their medications and/or treatment plans were effective in helping manage anxiety, they were quick to acknowledge that medication was the most important thing they did to treat their conditions. Nearly three quarters (72%) said that taking medication was the best way to alleviate their symptoms. Other helpful activities they cited included sleep or rest (56%) and talk therapy (40%).

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    Looks like next time I need to see a boring action film—one where I’m still able to sleep after watching it—so I can better cope with my anxiety. Oh well.

Published On: June 26, 2007