This Easy Meditation Method Will Help Calm Your Anxiety

Clear my mind—seriously? If you’re an anxious-type, and you’ve ever tried to meditate, you’ve probably asked yourself this question (while trying desperately to concentrate on your breathing).

Well, Buddhist teacher Susan Piver has heard it all before. In this excerpt from her new book, Start Here Now ($12, amazon.com), she clears up some of the most common confusions that keep people from beginning a regular practice—including exactly how to do it if you’re a worry wart.

How can I meditate when I am extremely worried about something and can’t take my mind off of that?

This is an excellent question. When we sit down to meditate with a lot of anxiety or obsessive thinking, meditation can make it worse—if in meditation, we try to shut it down rather than feel it. Sometimes we simply can’t let go of our thoughts. If, after some time of attempting to do so, you conclude that it is simply not possible, no problem. You can still meditate.

Here’s how to do it: Instead of making your breath the object of your meditation, make your anxiety its object. (I recognize this does not sound fun—it isn’t.) Take your attention off of your breath and place it instead on your anxiety.

Now, please listen to this next refinement to this instruction because it is of the utmost importance: place it on the feeling of the anxiety not the story behind it. In other words, notice how it feels to be anxious. Do you hold anxiety in your belly? Chest? Shoulders? Does it feel hot or cold, sticky or slippery? Does it pulse or is it constant? This is what I mean by feeling. Usually, our attention promptly jumps from the feeling to the story behind the feeling: I wouldn’t feel this unless… It is all my fault because … I am doomed and there is no exit … If this happens, then that will happen, and then I will lose … If you notice that your attention has become absorbed in the narrative, let it go, just as you would let go of thoughts in meditation practice.

Return your attention to the felt-sense of anxiety. Then, when you are able, let go of anxiety as the object of your practice and resume attention on breath. If you are unable to do so, no problem. Try again tomorrow.

RELATED: A Meditation to De-Stress

But aren’t some people just not cut out for this?

There is no need whatsoever to clear the mind of thought, stop thinking, or think only peaceful thoughts. The idea in meditation is to rest with your mind as it is, including those times when it may be speedy, sleepy, agitated, blissed-out, grumpy, dull, or all of the above.

I am crazy busy. How can I possibly carve out time to meditate regularly?

To begin, just meditate five minutes at a time. That is totally great. Then, when or if you feel so inclined, try to fit in two five-minute sessions per day. If even this is too much, you could meditate for as little as one minute—at your desk, on the bus, or anyplace you can sit quietly. You could even connect with the mind of meditation for a few seconds by turning your attention within and simply allowing it to rest on your breath.

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From Start Here Now by Susan Piver, © 2015 by Susan Piver. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com

Want to Ace the Interview? Offer a Warm Handshake

By Theresa TamkinsTHURSDAY, Oct. 23 (Health.com) — It’s an old saying that cold hands equal a warm heart. But a new study suggests you’re better off giving a warm handshake to someone you’re trying to impress.

People who have their hands warmed—for example, by holding a cup of hot coffee—are kinder and more generous toward others and view other people in a more flattering light than they do after holding an icy-cold beverage, according to a study in Science.

Don’t laugh. Although it seems like a deceptively simple—even silly—finding, the researchers say the study sheds light on a part of the brain known as the insula, which registers temperature and feelings of trust and empathy, as well as social emotions like guilt or embarrassment.

Our brains may be hardwired during infancy to associate warmth with trustworthiness, says John Bargh, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale University who conducted the study with Lawrence Williams, PhD, from the University of Colorado.

“We have this almost direct connection in our brain between touching and physical temperature and trust in other people,” he says.

That connection was probably forged during infancy, or even during evolution, when having a tight bond to a caregiver could have been the difference between life and death.

“When you’re tiny and helpless, the ones that keep close to food-giving and warmth-giving and shelter-giving caretakers survive, and the ones who don’t, do not,” he says.

And when something goes wrong with the insula, it may affect the way we interact with others. There’s some research to suggest this happens in people with borderline personality disorder, a type of mental illness, Bargh explains.

“They can’t deal with anyone else, they don’t know who to trust, and they trust the wrong people,” he says.

In the study, a researcher met volunteers in the lobby of a building. During the elevator ride, the researcher asked them to briefly hold a drink—either hot or cold—so that he could write on a clipboard.

After they arrived in the laboratory, the 41 volunteers read a passage about “person A” and rated his personality traits. Compared with those who held a cold drink, warm-drink holders tended to rate “person A” as having a warmer personality.

In the second study, 53 volunteers were asked to rate a cold or hot therapeutic pack. Then they were given a choice: They could choose a Snapple for themselves or a $1 gift certificate for ice cream for a friend (and vice versa, depending on the group). If the pack was cold, 75% of the volunteers kept the gift for themselves. If it was warm, only 46% opted to keep the gift rather than give it away.

“It would be all too easy to laugh this off and say this is ridiculous,” says Susan Fiske, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Princeton University who has studied warmth in personal interactions. “But the point they are making is very serious science. They have done their homework; they have conducted really rigorous research, even though it’s couched in everyday terms.”

The researchers were studying a “priming effect,” which is exposure to an object that then influences behavior. Priming people to something—such as an American flag—can change the way they vote, as can voting in a school versus voting in a church.

The study adds to evidence that these subtle social cues can also affect the way we feel about other people, Fiske says. For example, research has shown that subtle mimicry of body language—for example, an interviewer crosses his arms and you cross your arms too—creates good feelings and trust as well as a higher rating for the mimicker.

These cues are all part of a “friend-or-foe” decision that we make when we meet new people, says Fiske. “Is this person or entity with me or against me? It’s really a fundamental survival response because you need to know instantly.” The study suggests this is also “really important social behavior; it’s not trivial,” Fiske says. If you know you have a cold handshake, it’s a good idea to “quickly put your hand in you pocket on the way to the interview.”

However, that’s not to say we are prisoners to these subtle cues—or that a cup of joe from Starbucks will catapult you to instant popularity.

“This doesn’t mean that we are totally driven by these; it’s an influence, but it’s not like you’re being driven around willy-nilly,” says Peter Glick, PhD, a professor of psychology at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. “If someone likes you a little bit better, that could translate into something good, but it’s not like this is the only thing that’s going on.”

(PHOTO: FOTOLIA)


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Traumatized? Playing Tetris May Reduce Flashbacks

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By Sarah Klein

WEDNESDAY, November 10 (Health.com) — The rapid-fire visual puzzles that make Tetris so engrossing may also make the video game a promising treatment for post-traumatic stress, a new study suggests.

Recurring, intrusive thoughts of a traumatic event (or events) are one of the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder. According to the study, which appears in the journal PLoS ONE, playing Tetris soon after a traumatic experience appears to protect against these flashbacks, by distracting the brain from the event and short-circuiting how upsetting memories and images are stored.

Not just any video game will do. Notably, the study found that games that rely on trivia or language skills don’t appear to have the same therapeutic effect as stacking Tetris blocks, probably because they activate different areas of the brain.

“Verbal tasks may not be as effective because they will not affect the same neural networks,” says Alexander Obolsky, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., who specializes in the treatment of PTSD. “It’s a different part of the brain that processes that information.” (Dr. Obolsky was not involved in the new research.)

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To explore the effect of Tetris on post-traumatic stress, researchers in the U.K. used a well-known lab model of trauma: They showed a series of upsetting film clips (fatal car accidents, graphic surgery) to 60 people, then asked the participants to record how often they experienced flashbacks from the film.

The volunteers, who had no history of mental health problems, were divided into three groups. Shortly after watching the film, one group played Tetris, another played a word-based quiz computer game, and the third simply sat quietly.

In the first 10 minutes, the participants who played Tetris had just four flashbacks, on average. By comparison, the quiz-game players had about six flashbacks, and the participants who did nothing had 12 flashbacks.

More importantly, the protective effect of Tetris seemed to be lasting. Over the following week, members of the Tetris group continued to experience fewer flashbacks compared to the quiz-game and control groups. (The researchers asked the participants to record their flashbacks in a diary.) The group who played the quiz game actually experienced more flashbacks over the week than the group who did nothing.

“A visuospatial task such as Tetris may offer a ‘cognitive vaccine’ against the development of PTSD flashbacks after exposure to traumatic events,” the researchers concluded. The study was led by Emily Holmes, a senior research fellow in psychiatry at Oxford University.

While the results of the experiment suggest a way to head off PTSD, much more research is needed before experts can start recommending Tetris or similar visual tasks for trauma victims in the real world.

“If this indeed keeps working in various situations in further studies, then perhaps at one point we can try it with people who have actual PTSD,” Dr. Obolsky says. But, he adds, “there are years before this may or may not have something to do with what I do in my office with my patients.”

Effective therapies that can be administered within hours of a traumatic event are desperately needed, Holmes and her colleagues write. In fact, they note, some existing forms of early-intervention counseling can even make PTSD symptoms worse.

For Mental Health, Bad Job Worse than No Job

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By Matt McMillen

MONDAY, March 14, 2011 (Health.com) — With unemployment still high, job seekers who have been discouraged by a lack of work might be inclined to take the first opportunity they’re offered. That will help pay the bills, but it could cause other problems: A new study suggests that some jobs are so demoralizing they’re actually worse for mental health than not working at all.

The findings add a new wrinkle to the large body of research showing that being out of work is associated with a greater risk of mental health problems. In the study, which followed more than 7,000 Australians over a seven-year period, unemployed people generally reported feeling calmer, happier, less depressed, and less anxious after finding work, but only if their new jobs were rewarding and manageable.

“Moving from unemployment to a poor-quality job offered no mental health benefit, and in fact was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed,” says the lead author of the study, Peter Butterworth, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University, in Canberra.

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The study was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Butterworth and his colleagues analyzed data from an annual survey in which participants described their mental state, their employment status, and—for those with a job—details of the working conditions that they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy, as the case may be). The survey respondents were asked how strongly they agreed with statements such as “My job is complex and difficult” and “I worry about the future of my job.”

The researchers focused on four job characteristics that are closely linked with mental health: the complexity and demands of the work, job security, compensation, and job control (i.e., the freedom to decide how best to do the job, rather than being ordered around).

Unemployed people who found a job that rated well in these areas reported a substantial improvement in their mental health. By contrast, newly employed people who felt overwhelmed, insecure about their employment, underpaid, and micromanaged reported a sharp decline in their mental health, including increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even those who couldn’t find a job fared better.

This last finding was “striking,” Butterworth says. “This runs counter to a common belief that any job offers psychological benefits for individuals over the demoralizing effects of unemployment.”

Although certain types of jobs—such as working in a customer-service call center—are more likely to be downers, the working environment tends to have a greater impact on mental health than the job description itself, Butterworth adds.

Managers are especially important to employee well-being, says Robert Hogan, PhD, an expert on personality in the workplace and a former chair of the department of psychology at the University of Tulsa. “Bad bosses will make anybody unhappy,” Hogan says. “Stress comes from bad managers.”

Policymakers should address the impact that the workplace has on mental—and not just physical—health, Butterworth says. “In the same way that we no longer accept workplaces that are physically unsafe or in which employees are exposed to dangerous or toxic substances, there could be a greater focus on ensuring a more positive psychosocial environment at work.”

Study: Nearly 1 in 8 Shy Teens Has Social Phobia

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By Anne Harding

MONDAY, October 17, 2011 (Health.com) — Almost everyone has felt some jitters before speaking in public or walking into a party. For some people, however, that everyday shyness can become so crippling that they’re unable to give a presentation at work or muster up the courage to ask someone out on a date.

Mental-health experts have a term for this extreme shyness: social phobia. According to the official manual psychiatrists use to diagnose patients, social phobia—also known as social anxiety disorder—occurs when the anxiety people feel before (or during) social situations becomes so persistent and overwhelming that it interferes with their daily lives or causes them to avoid those situations altogether.

Not everyone agrees with this definition. For years, some doctors and journalists have held up social phobia as an example of the “medicalization” of a normal personality trait. These critics say pharmaceutical companies, in order to broaden the market for their anti-anxiety drugs, have encouraged doctors and consumers to label garden-variety shyness as a mental disorder, especially in children and teens.

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A team of researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is now disputing the charge that social phobia is simply medicalized shyness. In a new government-funded study of teenagers, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, they conclude that social phobia is an “impairing psychiatric disorder” distinct from “normal human shyness” that increases the risk of other health problems and requires treatment.

The study included a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, who were surveyed about shyness and a range of other psychological characteristics in face-to-face interviews (along with their parents, in some cases). Half of the girls and 43% of the boys said they were “somewhat” or “very” shy.

Of those teens, 12.4% met the criteria for social phobia outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which doctors and insurance companies use to classify patients. The teens with social phobia reported more difficulty in their social lives, family relationships, and performance at school or work compared to those who were merely shy, the study found.

“What you realize, when you’re on the treatment side of this and you see how much these kids are suffering, [is that] there’s just no way this is some kind of conspiracy to medicalize something,” says Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD, the lead author of the study and a senior investigator at the NIMH.

Next page: Drugs aren’t the first-line treatment

Ronald Kessler, PhD, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, says that although drawing a line between shyness and social phobia is tricky, it does make sense to distinguish—and treat—people who fall into the latter category. “These are people who are in pain,” he says, “and there is some evidence that psychotherapy is helpful for people and can get them a normal life again.”

At the same time, Kessler says, the attention paid to conditions such as social phobia partly reflects the influence of drug companies. “There is a whole lot more talk about things that pharmaceutical companies just happen to have a medication for,” says Kessler, who was not involved in the study. “Awareness of this stuff is a lot higher than it would be otherwise.”

In the study, however, Merikangas and her colleagues found that teens with social phobia were no more likely than their shy peers to be taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs such as paroxetine (Paxil). What’s more, Merikangas says, the standard treatment for social anxiety disorder doesn’t involve drugs specifically marketed for the disorder.

“Behavioral therapy and exposure therapy really work for these kinds of fears,” she says, adding that even some non-psychiatric drugs, such as beta-blockers—a heart drug that happens to dampen the fight-or-flight stress response—can be helpful as well.

People with social phobia “respond dramatically” to treatment, Merikangas says. “You don’t have to put them on lifelong [antidepressants].”

The study does suggest that some form of treatment is necessary, since teens do not appear to grow out of social phobia. Although the rate of ordinary shyness stayed roughly the same across age groups, social phobia—which typically appears during puberty or later, Merikangas says—was more common among older teenagers: 10% of 17- to 18-year-olds met the criteria for the disorder, compared to just 6% of 13- to 14-year-olds.

Social phobia was associated with various other health problems. Anxiety, depression, and drug abuse were all more common among the study participants with social phobia than among the shy ones, although there’s no way of determining from this data whether social phobia directly caused or worsened these problems, rather than vice versa.

Christopher Lane, PhD, the author of the 2007 book Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, says he’s unconvinced by the study findings. Lane, a research professor of literature at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., stresses that the diagnostic criteria that separate social phobia from ordinary shyness are largely arbitrary and may overestimate the true rate of social phobia.

“The prevalence of social phobia depends heavily on where the diagnostic threshold is set,” he says, adding that “diagnostic overreach” among mental health professionals continues to be a worry. “There is ample grounds for concern about the expansion of these criteria and the role that the drug companies are playing in promoting them.”

Will Living Alone Make You Depressed?

(Getty Images)By Amanda Gardner

FRIDAY, March 23, 2012 (Health.com) — It’s long been known that elderly people are more prone to depression and other mental-health problems if they live on their own. New research suggests the same pattern may also be found in younger, working-age adults.

In a study of nearly 3,500 men and women ages 30 to 65, researchers in Finland found that people who lived alone were more likely that their peers to receive a prescription for antidepressant drugs. One-quarter of people living alone filled an antidepressant prescription during the seven-year study, compared to just 16% of those who lived with spouses, family, or roommates.

“Living alone may be considered a mental-health risk factor,” says lead author Laura Pulkki-Råback, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Behavioral Sciences. The study was published today in the journal BMC Public Health.

The findings show only an association, not cause and effect, which raises a chicken-or-egg question: Does the experience of living alone lead people to become depressed? Or are the depression-prone more likely to live alone because of their temperament, preference, or difficulty with relationships?

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Both explanations are plausible, and both may play a role in any given situation, the researchers say.

Surveys of the study participants suggest that solo living may weaken social networks and produce “feelings of alienation from society” that could steer people toward depression, Pulkki-Råback says. “People living alone were more cynical in their attitudes,” she explains. “Being cynical and living alone may predispose to hopelessness and negative feelings, ultimately leading to depression.”

On the other hand, she adds, “Cynical people may also have ended up living alone because they are difficult to deal with.”

John Newcomer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says depression and feelings of isolation usually go hand in hand, and it’s not always clear which comes first.

“Being depressed certainly can cause you to not only feel, but [also] become, more isolated,” he says. “You feel hopeless that you’re ever going to be able to have relationships, but even at another level, you…just don’t feel like getting up and going out. You’re undermotivated to do the various steps that are necessary to achieve social engagement.”

Next page: 40% of solo dwellers were divorced or widowed

At the beginning of the study, Pulkki-Råback and her colleagues interviewed each person about their living arrangements, work life, social background, and health. Roughly 15% of the participants reported living alone, and of those, slightly more than 40% cited divorce or widowhood as a reason.

Overall, 17% of the participants filled at least one antidepressant prescription during the study. The odds of doing so were 81% higher among people who lived alone, although that figure dropped as low as 64% depending on the various factors the researchers included in their analysis.

For instance, much of the heightened depression risk among women living alone was attributable to their tendency to have lower incomes, less education, and poorer housing conditions than their peers—all of which could independently make depression more likely.

Similarly, among men, social and psychological factors such as work-related stress, a lack of social support, and heavy alcohol use explained some of the association between depression and living alone.

But these extenuating factors only accounted for about half of the increased risk, which suggests that living alone contributes to depression in other ways, Pulkki-Råback says.

Tina Walch, M.D., a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y., says the interaction between a person’s living situation and mental health is likely to involve a complicated mix of factors that are difficult to untangle in a single study.

“Any association between purchasing antidepressants and living alone is a little bit of a leap,” Walch says. “It’s multifactorial.”

The study data did have some gaps that could have skewed the results. The authors weren’t able to differentiate between people who preferred to live alone and those for whom the arrangement was not voluntary, for instance.

In addition, antidepressant prescriptions are an imperfect measure of depression rates. Prescription data doesn’t capture people who are depressed but haven’t sought professional help. And because the authors had no data on diagnoses, it’s possible some of the study participants were taking the drugs for one of the many conditions besides depression for which they’re prescribed, such as chronic pain, migraines, and insomnia.

Uh Oh: Anxiety Linked to Premature Aging

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Great. A new study suggests that anxiety—an emotion we already don’t love because of that awful impending-doom way it makes us feel—may also speed up aging.

How did researchers discover this potentially anxiety-provoking info? They took blood samples from more than 5,000 women aged 42 to 69 and measured the length of tiny pieces of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres are “caps” of DNA which sit at the ends of chromosomes like the plastic tips that cover the ends of your shoelaces.

Telomeres get a bit shorter each time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres in general have been linked to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and earlier death.

Women with acrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, cynophobia (fear of dogs), or any other phobic anxiety had shorter telomeres than their more anxiety-free peers. In fact, the length of the telomeres suggested that the anxious women were about six years older—in terms of their DNA–than other women in the study, which was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researcher Olivia Okereke, MD, of the psychiatry department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said in a statement that the study “is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress—phobic anxiety—and a plausible mechanism for premature aging.”

So in other words they can’t say with 100% certainty that mental stress actually caused the more rapid aging. But if you need yet another reason to cut back on stress, you’ve now got one.

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Did I Have a Panic Attack?

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Expert advice from our partner ChickRx.

Q: The other day, I suddenly stopped being able to breathe properly, my heart was racing, and I thought I was going to pass out. Is that a panic attack? How can I make sure I don’t get one again?

First off, panic attacks are very common and most people will experience at least one in their lifetime. That being said, they are a terrifying experience, especially the first time they happen. The most important thing to know about panic attacks is that they are almost always triggered by totally normal body sensations that are misread by the person as a sign that something really bad is happening to them. If you are “stressed” or anxious, you are more likely to misread your body sensations and experience a panic attack than someone who is calm and relaxed.

A common scenario: You may be a healthy young person and perhaps experiencing a period of elevated stress during your life. Possibly while not doing anything out of the ordinary, you suddenly notice your own heart rhythm. Maybe it seems to be going a bit more quickly than usual or you noticed a skipped beat, both of which are normal and harmless. You then begin to have worried thoughts that this is a sign that something’s wrong, which causes your body to start releasing adrenalin. This “fight or flight” hormone is triggered in any fear state, whether the danger is real or imagined. To create as much strength as possible, your heart rate rises to deliver maximum blood flow to the arms and legs and you begin to breath quickly to deliver increased oxygen to your muscles. Your pupils widen to increase alertness and allow you to see as much of your surroundings as possible. In creating these bodily reactions, adrenalin also produces “side effects” like light headedness, racing heart, chest tightness, shortness of breath, unusual visual changes, and feeling out-of-your-body or unreal, among others.

Read more at ChickRx:

How can I get over social anxiety?

Is it possible to develop ADHD later in life?

How can I get my temper under control?

So while you can see how adrenalin would be useful in confronting a real danger, its effects can be really scary when you aren’t confronting a real danger. The effects of adrenalin can also cause more fear, which leads to more adrenalin surges and further increases your heart and breathing rates. This panic cycle can be intense, but it’s usually limited to 20 minutes or less and its effects on the body are typically harmless.

It’s extremely common for first or second time panic sufferers, convinced they’re having a heart attack or stroke, to visit the local emergency room, where they’re almost always reassured that there’s nothing physically wrong and are typically sent home with a sedative to calm their nerves. For most people, knowing that nothing is physically wrong is enough to prevent a panic attack from occurring again.

But for a smaller percentage of panic attack sufferers (about 1.5 to 5 percent of the population), this may not be enough to stop the attacks. There are those who suffer from an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and seemingly out-of-control panic attacks, called Panic Disorder. These people tend to be over-thinkers, perfectionists, and the like who aren’t satisfied with an easy answer. Individuals with Panic Disorder experience intense fear and dread that they’re dying or going crazy with each panic attack. They begin to fear having panic attacks between episodes and alter their lifestyles to try to prevent them from occurring. Panic Disorder is a psychiatric condition that may need to be addressed by psychotherapy or psychiatric medications.

For others, though, what seems like a panic attack could be a physical issue like an asthma attack or heart rhythm abnormality, so make sure your physician has performed a general exam on you to confirm your “panic attack” may not be something more serious.

If what you experienced was in fact a panic attack, and the attacks persist, this may indicate an elevated stress level or anxiety disorder that should be addressed. Whether you experienced a normal panic attack or you suffer from Panic Disorder, you should focus on minimizing your overall stress level to decrease the likelihood of another panic attack. Get at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week, decrease caffeine and alcohol intake and regularly sleep seven to eight hours a night. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend psychotherapy or medications to minimize the attacks and teach you how to deescalate and prevent them.

Expert answer by: Melanie Zermeno, MD, a psychiatrist in West Hollywood, Calif., and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. Read more answers to this question, or ask your own.

ChickRx is a new site providing personalized health and wellness advice for women. Ask questions (anonymously, if desired), get answers from top experts and peers, and browse health news delivered with a fun, fresh attitude.

Spa Discounts and Deals for National Stress Awareness Month

How often do you feel anxious and overstressed? Nearly every day? We can help.

The month of April marks National Stress Awareness Month, a good time to learn about the health effects of stress, as well as to strive for more happiness and less anxiety in our lives.

Stress can lead to both physical and mental health risks, such as high blood pressure, weight loss (or gain!), mood swings, and heart disease.

While there are lots of ways to cut back on stress, spa treatments, like massages, facials, and aromatherapy can help too. Although such treatments can be pricey, you can get discounts this week in particular. Spa Week’s Spring 2013 event runs from April 15-21, and the group is offering $50 spa treatments at top spas, wellness centers, and fitness facilities throughout the United States and Canada.

Spa Week editor Marissa Gold said traditional massages and facials remain their most popular treatments, but interest in trendy services like eyelash extensions and laser treatments is growing.

“Visiting the spa has tactile benefits, like increasing circulation and clearing our pores, but the deeper health benefits are just as important,” Gold said. “Lowering stress, blood pressure, and centering our minds are added benefits of incorporating spa visits into our lives.”

Find out more information about spa discounts and deals at Spaweek.com.

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The Most Stressed

They say that happiness is a state of mind, but it appears it’s actually just…a state.  In fact, it’s Hawaii.

When a Gallup Poll randomly asked 350,000 U.S. state residents over the course of 2012 whether they were stressed, Hawaiians were the most likely to say “No.” And they were also the most likely to have “experienced enjoyment” the day before they were asked about it. Low stress and high enjoyment? That’s happiness in my book.

Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, and Wyoming also landed  on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index  of least-stressed states. And Wyoming joined Hawaii as a double winner by also being on the “experienced the most enjoyment” list.

Living in Georgia, a state that’s 21st on the least stressed list, I’m a little jealous of Hawaii, which has been number 1 for the entire five years that Gallup has been doing the poll. The most-stressed states were, in order, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Utah, and Massachusetts.

The states that experienced the least enjoyment were Rhode Island, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia.

West Virginia and Rhode Island: What’s up with your negative double whammy?

The pollsters say that the relationship between stress and enjoyment isn’t entirely clear. What is clear is that a lot of people are stressed out. According to the Gallup Poll, 40% of American adults consistently report experiencing a lot of stress. And we know that stress can take its toll on your health.

We’re here to help. Here’s how the 10 most stressed states (and any of you who are not “experiencing enjoyment” as much as you’d like) can loosen up a little and relax:

1. Have more sex, people! Maybe if you were lounging around the beach in your bikini in Hawaii instead of housebound in New Hampshire this wouldn’t seem like such a challenge for you.

2. Meditate, Ohio. Yes, you heard me. Forget that there’s a freeze warning for tonight while Hawaii is basking in the sun, and focus on your breathing.

3. Yuk it up, Indiana. A good laugh can give you a bit of an energy and mood boost.

4. Eat this, Massachusetts: A turkey, swiss, and avocado sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a dash of oregano just might cheer you up (the oregano is an anti-inflammatory that might help reduce stress). It’s no fancy drink in a pineapple, but a  tea chaser may help reduce the stress hormone cortisol.

5. Get out of your curled-up fetal position and do the child’s pose, Connecticut. Yoga is thought to help fight anxiety.

6. Take a peaceful stroll by the ocean, Utah. Oh, scratch the ocean part. But walking will help you shake off stress.

7. Clean your kitchen, Rhode Island. All that clutter could be giving you sensory overload and stressing you out. Conquering the chaos can be very relaxing.

8. Stop looking at pictures of Hawaii on your computer while you’re folding the clothes, Kentucky. Multitasking is not relaxing. Forget the folding and just look at Hawaii.

9. Visit the sauna at the gym, Oregon. It will relax you and improve your mood as you consider that there’s only 2,600 miles between you and Hawaii.

10.  Turn off the computer, West Virginia. And keep all those digital devices out of your bedroom where they can make you even more tired and depressed about the fact that you don’t live in Hawaii!

Read more:

Learn to be Assertive and Love It!

Dos and Don’ts for Dealing with Anger

Depressed? 12 Mental Tricks to Turn It Around