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...

Warm Handoff for Transitioning Servicemembers Suffering from PTSD and TBI

Congressional Testimony
7/8/2019

S. 2987, SASC Report for FY 2019, 115-262, Pg. 203-204

Recommended Content:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Traumatic Brain Injury

2019 Men's Health Case Studies

Publication
6/27/2019

This chart summarizes case studies of adult male patients in different life stages

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

Men’s preventive health screenings essential for readiness and a lifetime of good health

Article
6/27/2019
Hospitalman Payton Dupuis, a native of Mill City, Oregon, checks veteran Joseph Levette’s blood pressure at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s internal medicine clinic. “Men’s health is a vital part of the mission,” stated Dupuis. “We need a healthy workforce to succeed.” (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

An apple a day helps, too

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health

Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in military

Article
6/26/2019
Some sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the military. To increase awareness, members of Team McConnell attend a briefing on STIs at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

What you need to know to stay safe

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Men's Health | Women's Health

New clinical recommendations on cognitive rehabilitation for TBI released

Article
6/24/2019
Dr. Gregory Johnson (right), Tripler Concussion Clinic medical director, has Army Spc. Andrew Karamatic, Department of Medicine combat medic, follow his finger with his eyes during a neurologic exam at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)

Cognitive rehabilitation focuses on improving thinking and communication skills

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Traumatic Brain Injury | Mental Wellness

Practicing yoga to stimulate the mind, body, spirit

Article
6/21/2019
Dr. Bhagwan Bahroo, staff psychiatrist, demonstrates a deep-breathing posture as he leads a weekly yoga class for Psychiatry Continuity Service Program participants at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. (DoD photo by Leigh Culbert)

Programs at Walter Reed incorporate yoga basics to promote healing

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care

Mail-in colon cancer screening may end colonoscopy for most

Article
6/19/2019
Army Medicine logo

The best test is the one the patient will do

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health

Experts: Carbs are not the enemy in health, wellness battle

Article
6/18/2019
Navy Ensign Ted Johnson completed the Marine Corps Marathon while following a ketogenic diet, but now he's back on carbs. (Courtesy photo)

Shift focus away from any specific macronutrient, experts say

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Nutrition

Nine tips for Men's Health

Article
6/12/2019
Many of the major health risks that men face can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy lifestyle can start with one small choice.

Many major health risks can be prevented by lifestyle choices

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

Pilot Program on Treatment of Members of the Armed Forces for PTSD Related to Military Sexual Trauma

Congressional Testimony
6/10/2019

H.R. 5515 NDAA Report for FY 2019, Sec. 702

Recommended Content:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Take Command of your health during Men’s Health Month

Article
6/6/2019
Take Command of Your Health

Men’s Health Month is a great time to focus on taking preventive steps and making small changes to your lifestyle

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

A healthy lifestyle is integral to achieving my career goals

Article
6/4/2019
Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Talbott gets exercise and fresh air when taking dog Odin on long walks. Here, they're at Oceanside Pier in California. (Courtesy photo)

Men's Health Month reminds me to go beyond box-checking

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

DoD officials urge troops to seek mental health help without fear

Article
5/30/2019
One problem that may contribute to suicide numbers is a reticence to seek assistance from mental health providers due to fears that such help may damage careers, especially when it comes to security clearances. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Demetrio Montoya)

Solving suicide is a shared challenge in both the military and civilian societies

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

Stress relief a touch screen away

Article
5/29/2019
Dr. Tim Hoyt, chief of the DHA Connected Health Branch, described Breathe2Relax and the Virtual Hope Box as coping tools in the pockets of deployed service members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Lackey)

Help is within reach with military apps

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

Mental Health Care in the MHS

Congressional Testimony
5/24/2019

HR 5515, HASC Report for FY 2019, 115-676, Pg. 132-133

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care
<< < 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.