Back to Top Skip to main content

Breaking down anxiety one fear at a time

Marine Staff Sgt. Andrew Gales participates in ‘battlefield’ acupuncture, also known as ‘ear acupuncture,’ at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as a treatment for anxiety related to PTSD. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin Cunningham) Marine Staff Sgt. Andrew Gales participates in ‘battlefield’ acupuncture, also known as ‘ear acupuncture,’ at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as a treatment for anxiety related to PTSD. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin Cunningham)

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Mental Wellness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Even a subtle sight, smell, or sound can trigger Marine Staff Sgt. Andrew Gales, making him jittery, inducing a pounding in his chest, or causing him to break out in a sweat. He suffers from anxiety related to post traumatic stress disorder, and he never knows how long an anxiety bout will last; it can be moments, or it can be hours.

For Gales, who did combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, situations where he used to be calm and collected, such as when spending time with family or going to the store, now increase his anxiety. “(It gets worse) with things I can’t control,” he said. “The loss of control increases the hypersensitivity to people and situations around me.”

Gales is not alone. Generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and anxiety related to PTSD are common. An estimated 31 percent of U.S. adults experience anxiety at some point in their lives, according to National Institute of Mental Health diagnostic interview data from the 2017 Harvard Medical School National Comorbidity Study.

“Everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety,” said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Sawsan Ghurani, a staff psychiatrist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “When it disrupts your daily life – going to work, leaving the house, interrupting sleep – that’s when we classify it as a disorder.”

Asked for a few PTSD anxiety symptoms, Dr. Amanda Edwards-Stewart, a research psychologist at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington, cited avoiding driving in the passing lane for fear of being boxed in; taking a different route to work every day for fear of being followed or ambushed; displaying hypervigilance as one waits for the next bad thing to happen; or, as seen in generalized anxiety, experiencing ruminating thoughts of losing one’s job, family, or health. She said the anxiety has to be constant and debilitating to be considered a disorder.

Unfortunately, many people have more than one disorder at a time – for example, depression and anxiety. Edwards-Stewart explained some of the common related disorders and their symptoms:

  • Depression is often found in people with anxiety. Major depression includes feelings of hopelessness that last for more than two weeks, a change in eating and sleeping patterns, and social isolation. Depression can be so severe that the person cannot get out of bed, or it may take a slightly milder form.
  • Panic disorder involves consistently having panic attacks that can include sweating, heart racing, hyperventilating, and a general feeling that one is going to die. Panic attacks can last 20 minutes or more and often are triggered by no apparent event or situation.
  • PTSD occurs several months after a psychological trauma. Those who suffer from it go to great lengths to avoid people, places, and thoughts that remind them of the trauma. They are numb and have difficulty feeling a full range of emotions. They also have problems with sleep and invasive thoughts. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders changed PTSD to a stress trauma disorder in 2013.

If one suffers from one of these disorders, the good news is that MHS providers are using a variety of treatment services. “If you’re just prescribing medication, you’re not getting at the root cause,” Ghurani said.

But some forms of therapy may seem counterintuitive. Edwards-Stewart noted that treating panic disorder sometimes involves recreating the setting that induces the panic. “By putting the person in the situation that scares them, it teaches teach them it is OK to feel that way, and it becomes less anxiety provoking,” she said.

In addition to cognitive therapy, Walter Reed Bethesda also offers patients “battlefield” acupuncture, which treats the whole body by stimulating corresponding points on the ear; as well as transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive, effective intervention that uses magnetic energy to help relieve symptoms.

Gales, who’s been receiving medical care since 2011, has tried many forms of treatment and has found help for his anxiety. He explained that one of the Marine leadership principles, “seek self-improvement,” was a key factor in why he sought help.

“It was realizing this isn’t a failure,” he said. “I have some sort of a problem. (The important thing is) accepting it, and realizing reaching out for help is not a weakness. For those who are on the fence, come in with an open mind. There are a lot of treatments available. It’s like anything in the military – resources are there, and it’s up to you to take advantage of it to improve yourself.”


You also may be interested in...

Breaking the pain cycle

Article
4/9/2019
Ashley Blake, an acupuncture nurse at Naval Hospital Pensacola’s Pain Management Clinic, treats a patient with Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA), one of many opioid alternatives offered at many treatment facilities in the Military Health System. BFA consists of inserting five tiny and sterile 2 mm needles into specific points of the ear where they can remain for up to three days. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brannon Deugan)

Live in agony or risk addiction? MHS pain management initiatives offer options

Recommended Content:

Prescription Monitoring Program | Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care | Substance Abuse | Physical Disability | Warrior Care | Opioid Safety | Pain Management

Is exercise that’s too intensive resulting in your angina?

Article
4/8/2019
Navy Hospitalman Kiana Bartonsmith checks a patient’s heart rate at Naval Branch Health Clinic Kings Bay in Georgia, one of Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s six health care facilities. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

Angina is experienced as a feeling of tightness or pressure in the chest that can also radiate out to your neck, jaw, back or shoulders

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Heart Health | Preventive Health

Mobile app aids ‘truly informed’ contraception conversations between patients, providers

Article
3/11/2019
A new app provides information about contraception with the goal of helping patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app includes a module to address the unique needs of servicewomen around deployment. (Photo by Sgt. Barry St. Clair)

Decide + Be Ready, an app that provides information on contraception for men and women, is designed to help patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app also includes a module to address the unique needs of service women around deployment and duties.

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Women's Health | Technology

Sudden cardiac death in young athletes

Article
3/7/2019
High school basketball requires skill and rigorous training. In rare but highly publicized cases, it can also bring cardiac issues to the surface. (U.S. Army photo by Chuck Gannon)

Sudden cardiac events can occur in seemingly healthy young people in their teens or twenties, including young servicemembers

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Heart Health | Preventive Health

Study's focus: Mending hearts broken by deaths of military loved ones

Article
2/19/2019
Young military family members at a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp in Denver, Colorado, created this collage to memorialize their lost loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez)

Military tests virtual programs for adapting to grief

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care

Taking care of your heart with TRICARE benefits

Article
2/19/2019
February is nationally recognized as American Heart Month, a time for the Department of Defense community to show its love for healthy living.

Getting preventive screenings now could save your life tomorrow

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Preventive Health

It's complicated: Our relationship with social media

Article
2/13/2019
An Army health care provider loads the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app on a mobile device for a demonstration for his patients. (DoD photo)

Social media can help connect and reconnect people; however, it may increase feelings of isolation or remind people of what they don’t have

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Connected Health

Stroke prevention awareness

Article
2/4/2019
Stroke prevention awareness graphic (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Technology Solutions for Psychological Health

Congressional Testimony
2/1/2019

HR 3219, HAC Report FY 2018, 115-219, Pg. 287-288

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care

Traumatic Brain Injury/Psychological Health

Congressional Testimony
1/25/2019

S. 3000, SAC Report for FY 2017, 114-263, Pg. 193

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Mental Health Care

2019 TRICARE Winter Safety Kit

Infographic
1/22/2019
TRICARE Winter Safety Kit 2019

This infographic provides tips and information about staying safe and warm during a snow storm.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness | Preventive Health

TRICARE Preventive Services

Video
1/14/2019
TRICARE Preventive Services

Watch this video to learn more about all the preventive services your TRICARE benefit covers.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Preventive Health

Mental Health Assessments for Members of the Armed Forces

Congressional Testimony
1/11/2019

HR 3979, NDAA Report for FY 2015, Sec. 701

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness

'Fused' technologies give 3D view of prostate during biopsy

Article
1/9/2019
Eisenhower Army Medical Center graphic

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Military Hospitals and Clinics | Preventive Health

Recognizing the holiday blues

Article
12/19/2018
Air Force 1st Lt. Danielle Dockery is a licensed clinical social worker with the 88th Medical Group’s Intensive Outpatient Program. (Courtesy photo)

There are some individuals who are normally happy and content who can also experience holiday blues

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 11

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.