Southwest Pennsylvania National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) held its annual conference at the beginning of April, and one of their afternoon breakout workshop presenters was Dr. Robert Hudak, assistant professor of psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, University of Pittsburgh. “Pathways to Hope: Shaping a Positive Future in Uncertain Times” was the conference topic; Dr. Hudak’s contribution was “Coping with Anxiety and Panic Attacks.”
I communicated with Dr. Hudak recently, to clarify some questions, get his take on some extrapolations of anxiety and even to inquire about an interesting diagnostic title he proposed in his presentation.
Conference breakout workshops, be they NAMI or just about any organization, can never do justice to a topic in the short time allotted, but it is always good to get a small group together to at least begin a dialogue.
In his session, Dr. Hudak defined anxiety, reviewed the disorders as classified by the old and up-and-coming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), discussed when and how to treat anxiety, and addressed referral concerns. Most of the content described herein is directly from his slide presentation, combined with quotes from my interview with him.
Interestingly, anxiety is “the only psychiatric symptom that is also experienced by individuals with no psychopathology.” Think about what that means. It can be found in normal emotion, or in psychiatric illness. But it can show up as “secondary to a medical or psychiatric illness, or as a primary symptom of a medical illness.” There are two states– not just psychological but also physiological — and four components — somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.
It is hardly a secret that even mild anxiety can show up in our bodies. The onset of hives for me during teen years, personally, was definitely emotionally-based, no matter how physically those deep red welts marred my arms. And as the emotional and behavioral components of anxiety are “givens,” in a sense, I asked Dr. Hudak to elaborate a bit on some of the cognitive components that might surface.
“The main one is an inability to concentrate or an inability to focus or pay attention,” he replied. “People sometimes complain to me that they feel like they have ADHD because their concentration is so bad.”
Due to internal family conversations that I have witnessed and been a part of at NAMI groups, though, I was thinking along the lines of more severe cognitive impairment even if acutely, as in stress-induced psychotic symptoms, disorganized thinking in how one presents to others, disassociation, or any manipulative behavior.