Understanding Panic Attacks and Anxiety: Embracing the Confusion
I know. I know.
You’re probably wondering…
“Embrace my panic attacks? My anxiety? I want it all gone!
Let me first start by saying that panic attacks and anxiety are very real. They’re very real to the person experiencing them and can be frightening and even debilitating. I speak from experience. I, myself have experienced panic attacks. And though I explore with clients how to work through that horrible feeling, I know that it is much more challenging to overcome them at the moment when your mind and body are going haywire. It takes a very real and persistent effort to get through what seems an eternity of overwhelming fear and loss of control.
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks live in the mind and body. They make us hyper-aware and hypersensitive. And oftentimes, they are triggered from either a past experience or future event that makes us feel out of control. And it’s not pretty. An anxiety disorder is much more than a temporary feeling of fear or worry. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the feelings of fear and worry do not go away and can get worse over time. These symptoms can affect our day to day living. A panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that comes on all of a sudden. One experiences intense fear and that fear, at that moment, feels as if it has taken over our lives.
We all have experienced some form of panic or anxiety throughout our life. You might even say that a healthy dose of panic or feeling some anxiety can serve a purpose. When we are faced with what appears to us to be a potentially harmful situation, we actually need some anxiety because feeling hyper-aware and hypersensitive is not only normal, but necessary for survival. The perceived threat or danger causes a rush of adrenaline, which tells our brain,” Get Ready to Rumble” or “RUN!”
You may experience any of the following:
Your heart rate accelerates, you may become overheated or you get heart palpitations
You may feel like you can’t breathe or feel like you’re choking
You may feel dizzy
Numbness and tingling sensations
Nausea, stomach pains
Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
You see yourself from the outside and “feel out of it”
You feel as if your surroundings are not real or they appear unfamiliar
Fear of dying
Panic attacks tend to occur and escalate rapidly, where the it peaks at about ten minutes. However, a panic attack might last for hours. Feelings of intense terror and apprehension take over. These attacks can lead to shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and breathing difficulties.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a disorder that involves long-lasting anxiety. You can experience anxiety over anything or anyone. With GAD most individuals can’t always identify the cause of their anxiety.
The causes of anxiety disorders are complicated.
Possible causes include:
environmental stressors, such as difficulties at work, relationship problems, or family issues
people who have family members with an anxiety disorder are more likely to experience one themselves
medical factors, such as the symptoms of a disease, the effects of a medication
hormones and electrical signals in the brain
the use of, or withdrawal from an illicit substance, which can intensify other reactions to the substance or situation you’re in
So what happens when it becomes too much? How do we deal with the feeling of fear or desperation? And what if it continues to be persistent in duration and time? How do we embrace anxiety or a panic attack? And is our condition becoming debilitating and preventing us from carrying out our day to day activities?
Talk therapy, medication and behavioral therapy tend to show the most success when working with anxiety. You can also learn how to de-escalate the symptoms of your anxiety on your own. Though if your condition is severe and has lasted for some time, it can be much more difficult.
There are different strategies and techniques that can initially help you when you feel anxiety or if you feel a panic attack coming on.
Don’t stress: Make a list of triggers that make you feel stressed out. Commit yourself to taking some time off of work or school. This does not mean that you call in sick every time you feel stressed. What it means is, you take your lunch break or go for a 5 minute walk. If you’re pressed to finish a project or meet a deadline, break it into smaller manageable steps.
Exercise: Physical exertion can improve self-image and release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.
Relax: activities like meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark, and yoga can reduce the effects of anxiety because it brings focus to your body and breath at the present moment.
Out with the old in with the new: If you are able to identify errors in your thinking, make a list of why you’re feeling anxious and how can you replace those ideas and thoughts with ideas that are realistic. It’s better to do this when you aren’t experiencing a panic attack. That way if you have an attack you’ll be prepared.
Get support: Talk with familiar people who are supportive, such as a family member or friend. Find a support group in your community. It is much easier to understand and deal with one’s anxiety if we have others support us through the process.
So if you can learn how to be in the present moment and learn that the symptoms of a panic attack or anxiety, are temporary, you can be better prepared and eventually know what triggers you. In cases where your anxiety is much more severe, know that through therapy, and/or medication, exercise, meditation and relaxation can lessen the affects.