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Anxiety: The New Young Woman's Health Crisis

Posted: December 10, 2010

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Try mind-body therapies. “Relaxation techniques are effective in so many aspects of your life, but they’re particularly good for generalized anxiety disorders,” says Otto. “They should be taught as a requirement in school, as the fourth R: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and relaxation!” Yoga, meditation and hypnotherapy have all been shown to help, as can deep breathing, relaxing to soothing music, and massage. “When we’re stressed, most of us breathe shallowly from our chest, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system—that’s the classic ‘fight or flight’ reaction,” says Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “If you inhale and exhale more deeply, that activates the opposite, parasympathetic response. Your body physically settles down.” Also, “this type of relaxation prompts the release of feel-good endorphins,” which can buffer against the biological response to stress, says London-based clinical hypnotherapist Georgia Foster.

Find the right treatment. You should be able to tell after one to two months whether the lifestyle changes above will make a difference. If they don’t, you might need therapy or medication intervention. It’s fine to turn to your GP; you don’t need to start with a psychiatrist. She may refer you to a therapist, or prescribe medication. But tell her all of your symptoms in detail. More and more women are doing so, and their assertiveness is paying off. “Emergency rooms used to be flooded with people thinking they were having a heart attack when really it was a panic attack,” says Edna B. Foa, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. “Now a lot of women with anxiety problems diagnose themselves because they’re more educated. It’s become part of the culture we’re in to be able to talk about anxiety without feeling you’re going to be judged.” No judgment, just help. That’s what every woman deserves.