The complexity of panic attacks and high anxiety

By Jasmin Jimenez

What exactly is an anxiety disorder?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults in the United States.

Essentially, that’s roughly 18% of the American population.

Stress has the capability to completely alter and inhibit someone’s life. Simple activities like driving to the supermarket will suddenly feel sullen and nerve wrecking. Even sitting in an eye doctor’s office may make an individual so anxious that one can faint.

From an outside perspective, these reactions to these simple activities may seem irrational, but to a person with an anxiety disorder, it’s just another day.

Anxiety disorders vary in symptoms and include generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias and numerous others.

Feeling fearful or uneasy, problems sleeping, shortness of breath, heart palpitation, muscle tension, flashbacks of terrible experiences and dizziness are just a handful of the symptoms that occur with anxiety attacks.

Anxiety disorders are more likely to be triggered in women as opposed to men. The ADAA says that women tend to be more susceptible specifically to anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders run in families, and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events,” says ADAA’s website.

Longevity of anxiety and the behaviors associated with anxiety disorder depend entirely on the individual.

If an individual with a mental illness like this seeks therapy, guidance from doctors, or another method of stress relief, then a person can manage and even overcome their anxiety all together.

A worrier, turned home education teacher, turned licensed professional counselor


Laurene Larson in her counseling office. Photo by Jasmin Jimenez

Laurene Larson was sitting on a gynecologist’s table during an appointment, patiently waiting to be seen and the next thing she can remember is waking up on the floor, surrounded by hovering nurses.

Larson experienced a vasovagal episode, a common type of fainting, which made Larsom faint and while in her unconscious state, she experienced a seizure.

“The doctor asked me if this had ever happened to me before and I had no idea what he was talking about,” says Larson. “The doctor told me I had a seizure and I said, “Wait, no! What do you mean a seizure?!””

Being so nervous to see the doctor this particular day and feeling as though none of the nurses knew what they were doing, had triggered an immense amount of immediate stress within Larson.

Larson experienced this seizure the summer of her sophomore year at Washington State University and to this day, Larson has yet to experience another stress induced seizure as she had as a college sophomore.

“I have never had one since and I’m not epileptic but it was because I had been so nervous and stressed that the vascular vein I had totally cut it off by just not breathing and it just caused that reaction,” says Larson.

Though the seizure was a one-time occurrence, Lawson had a history of fainting especially during visits to her eye doctor.

“If anyone even talks about eyes, I just start feeling nervous and dizzy,” says Larson.

After years of personal practice and meditation, Larson feels in control of the immense anxiety she once felt at places such as her eye doctors.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Washington State, Larson took a position as a home education teacher at South Eugene High school.

Then after 25 years, Larson became a counselor at the same high school and has remained a counselor there for 10 years.

Larson says she felt as though she was called to help others because during her years as a home education teacher, students would constantly approach Larson with personal issues and seeking direction.


A Washington State pennant greets students as they walk into Larson’s office. Photo by Jasmin Jimenez

Larson says that’s when she truly began realizing her potential to assist others and in time transitioned from a home education teacher to one of South Eugene High’s counselors.

Larson received her masters in psychology at the University of Oregon with concentrations on at risk youth and her secondary emphasis and thesis dealt with divorce mediation.

Anxiety is one of the most popular issues that Larson discusses with students about at South Eugene High School.

“Anxiety is able to be treated without medication, and with nothing more than cognitive behavioral therapy and it’s really great to start young to work on anxiety issues, like many of these kids I work with, because this is a great environment to practice reliving anxiety before they go out into the real world,” says Larson.

Larson feels that people worry and experience anxiety disorders based on three areas of their being.

“One is the past, one is the future and another is the future,” says Larson. “If you can live in the present, your anxiety will reduce. If you live in the future you do something I like to refer to as “future-tripping” and your life is filled with constant what-ifs. If you live in the past, your life is filled with wishing you would have done things differently, or better, and then you can become depressed.”

Larson’s days as a high school counselor at South Eugene High are numbered because she recently accepted a position as a licensed professional counselor with Vista Counseling and Consultation, a practice located in Eugene.

One can get a sense that Larson has a knack for helping others. It is only 8:15 AM on a busy Thursday morning in South Eugene High’s main office and Larson is patiently assisting a sick student to select a better time to take an advance placement test.

Larson adjusts the white silky scarf that sits around her neck and her gracefully tucks her blond hair behind her ear as she shifts through a calendar.

After ten minutes of devoted care and selecting a new date for the student to take her test, Larson advises the student that it would be in her best interest to go home and rest.

As the student exists the office, Larson says, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back at noon today and feeling better to take the test and everything will be fine.”


Q&A with Mike Contreras


Mike Contreras. Courtesy of Mike Contreras.

Q: When did you first begin having panic attacks and high anxiety?

I began having panic attacks about a year after my parents divorce. The emotions didn’t hit me until I matured a little then I felt like everything in my life was collapsing. I freaked out and had random heart palpitations.

Q: How did you feel during your very first attack?

During my first panic attack I felt like I was going into shock and immediately rushed myself to the hospital to only find out nothing was wrong with me.

Q: How do you deal with them?

I would take long walks at night, listen to soft relaxing music, prayer, and talked to people. The worst times I had these episode were at night when I was just laying there. I felt when I was still and silent, I began thinking about all that happened to me either that day or past days. This always hit me when I was trying to relax. I felt like I needed to stay up fpr hours on end or talk to a friend all night just so I wouldn’t freak out.

Q: Do you do anything to reduce stress?

To reduce stress levels, I work out and run a lot. I also like to keep busy with work or school or church functions. Pretty much anything that occupies my full day to distract me and not freak out and have panic attacks.

Q: Have you talked to doctors?

I have talked to my doctors about my anxiety and he has helped me through it never gave me pills. My doctor is a believer like me, so we both agreed God will be my strength and help me overcome this anxiety.

Q: Would you ever consider talking to a therapist?

I definetley would talk to a therapist or counselor. I feel all my friends or relatives or coworkers that I have talked to are my counselors and there free! But they give me advice, wisdom and assurance that I will be alright. And mostly I have come to realize and have told myself that I will be alright and I am healthy.

Q. What advice would you give to someone struggling with anxiety?

My advice is to stay calm, be active and busy, if pills are necessary then take them, but find friends you can confide in and talk to about it because it is personal and embarrassing having to leave a movie theatre because you’re having an attack or driving alone because you do not want to ask the driver to pull over every other exit to get some air. Just be calm and try and overcome it!

A Better Look Into Panic Attacks: An Interview with LPC Dan Duncan

Dan Duncan, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Eugene, sees around 150 – 200 cases pertaining to anxiety and anxiety disorders in the course of a year. Duncan has assisted an array of clients in Lane county even as young as four years old.

On this Thursday morning, Duncan is sitting in his office that offers warm atmosphere, and he reclines comfortably in his desk chair, while a busy looking desk sits behind him

“There’s no definition or diagnosis of an anxiety attack but there is a diagnosis for panic attacks for example,” says Duncan. “An anxiety attack tends to be long, it doesn’t seem to have the clearer sort of boundaries and triggers that panic attacks do. They tend to build up over a long period of time but they are never as intense as a panic attack.”

“Panic attacks themselves are all about the autonomic nervous system, the flight or fight syndrome,” says Duncan.

Extreme muscle tension, racing thoughts, a racing heart rate, hyperventilation, are several of the symptoms that occur during a panic attack.

For individuals suffering from high anxiety or regular panic attacks, Duncan says that he prefers to have his clients reflect on things that they are doing correctly as opposed to what they are doing wrong.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 18% of the adult American population has some sort of an anxiety disorder, that’s around 40 million Americans.

The ADAA states that of those 40 million, 6 million people have panic attacks.

Duncan also says that another method to overcome mental roadblocks, like regular panic attacks, is cognitive behavior therapy.

The method of cognitive behavior therapy deeply examines the thoughts an individual may have and how these thoughts may lead to certain dysfunctional behaviors, behaviors like panic attacks.

“There is research that shows that also shows that about 50% of people stop having panic attacks within five years to seven years, with out any treatment whatsoever,” says Duncan.

The therapy that Duncan practices, like helping clients overcoming their anxiety, has been a career objective for Duncan since early on in his high school years.

While attending the University of Hawaii as an undergraduate, Duncan says that he never once thought about deviating from his major.

Duncan received a Masters degree in counseling psychology from the University of Oregon in 1996.

Currently residing in Eugene along with his wife of 23 years and children, Duncan continues to fulfill his life-long passion of assisting others by means of counseling in his practice.

Tips to beat a panic attack:


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