Anxiety Panic Attacks
For over ten years I have suffered from anxiety panic attacks. I have learned through both the medical community and through much self help what to do and what NOT to do in the event of an attack.
At the age of twenty I suffered a very traumatic event in my life. I lost the sight in my left eye. I was fine, (or so I thought), throughout the ordeal. It wasn't until it was over that I had my first anxiety attack. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.
The symptoms most commonly suffered are:
1. Shortness of breath
2. Rapid heart beat/palpitations
4. Cold sweat
5. Numbness/Tingling (I got it in my hands, upper lip and sometimes throughout my entire body).
6. Dizziness or feeling like you are going to fall over
7. Fear that you are going to die
First, let me make it clear that I, in no way, am a medical or psychological expert. I am simply sharing my knowledge of this condition in the hopes of reaching others who have the same. There are many variations of Anxiety and Panic Disorders, and the best thing to do first is to go to your doctor and get a full check up. This will rule out any medical conditions that are duplicating the symptoms of anxiety attacks. Do not be afraid to go! When you discover that the cause is not due to a serious medical condition, as I thought, you will feel relieved.
We are born with a natural "flight or fright" response. It tells us in times of danger what to do, and gives us the strength to do it. If you've ever heard stories about women who have lifted cars off of their babies in order to save their lives, it's a perfect example of how this rush of adrenaline can save us or others. If you need to run from a dangerous situation, this response system aids you in doing it.
The problem with anxiety, in a very generalized way, is that our bodies react as if there is immanent danger for no apparent reason and we are left with all the adrenaline in our bodies causing the above listed symptoms to occur. We are afraid and we don't know why.
Anxiety attacks can occur for a multitude of reasons. They can often be connected to a stressful event or period in your life, or, they can seemingly come "out of the blue". I could connect my first attack to my losing partial sight. But, years later, when I was still experiencing the attacks, they were coming from "out of the blue" and I knew I had to get a handle on them.
Initially, I sought no help, I just dealt with them and was terrified most of the time. It wasn't until many years later that I sought the help of a counselor. I gained an understanding of what anxiety attacks were, but as life went on, I still suffered from them. I was given no medication at the time. Talk therapy was the primary aid. My attacks ran in cycles, i.e., there were periods I wouldn't get them at all and there were times when they were relentless, causing me to avoid social situations, driving, eating, (for fear I would choke), etc. They were, to say the least, extremely debilitating. However, I forced myself to do many of the things I was afraid of. I didn't want to "give in" to them.
Years later, after my anxiety attacks began to manifest themselves in physical symptoms of which I was unaware of the cause, I went to a General Practitioner. I was experiencing severe intestinal pain, called Gastritis, and my doctor, knowing nothing at the time of my history with anxiety, diagnosed me with Chronic Anxiety Disorder which she directly related to my gastrointestinal problems. Given the fact that I was having an anxiety attack in her office, it seems clear now, how she knew.
I was prescribed medication for the Gastritis, an anti-depressant for the anxiety, which didn't work, and it was highly recommended that I seek counseling from a professional. The anti-depressant was changed to a drug called Klonopin, which is a Benzodiazepine tranquilizer. This drug works by depressing the central nervous system, therefore decreasing the anxiety and it worked for me. It didn't stop the attacks all together, but it most definitely lessened the severity of them. However, different medications work for different people, and your doctor will determine, which, if any, are in order.
What to do and what NOT to do when suffering an attack:
Don't tell yourself you are going to die! This only exacerbates the problem causing more fear, therefore more anxiety! As your heart beats rapidly and your adrenaline rushes through you, the last thing you need is to be more afraid! I know it's difficult, especially when you are unfamiliar with these attacks. But, you are not going to die and by telling yourself you will, the attack will not only last longer, it will be more severe! That is where I found the old adage, "That which we resist persists" came into play. Don't resist your attack. Go with it, knowing full well, BELIEVING that it will end shortly. You will be uncomfortable, for certain, but you will not remain that way.
Don't breathe shallowly! There is a tendency to breathe from the upper chest in a shallow manner when having an anxiety attack. (Even when you're not). It's a natural reaction to fear. But, what ends up happening is the symptoms worsen. You may end up with numbness and tingling in your extremities, or around your mouth. Your dizziness will increase because you are hyperventilating. What you need to do is to breathe deeply, from your abdomen, filling your lungs with air and slowly letting it out. Do not hold your breath! There is a tendency to do that as well. Remember, breathe, and breathe deeply from the abdomen. If you need to carry a paper bag in your purse or under your car seat, do it! Breathe in and out of it several times and it will help regulate your levels of carbon dioxide, which become out of balance when you breathe from your chest, or overbreathe. Decreased carbon dioxide can cause your heart to pump harder and faster, the opposite of what you want and need, making you even more fearful! (There are resources out there that teach you the correct way to breathe).
"Negative self talk" will not get you through an anxiety attack. As I mentioned earlier, telling yourself that you are going to die is an example of this and will make your attack worse. These "disastrous" thoughts aggravate the attacks. Here are some examples of them: 1. I am going to die. 2. I am so scared. 3. I am going to faint. 4. Everyone is watching me. 5. I can't breathe. 6. I am choking or am going to choke. 7. What's wrong with me? These are just some of the things I used to say to myself over and over again, before I understood the damage they were doing to me. These statements were making the very problem I wanted to go away...stick around longer! What you need to do during an attack is to reinforce your mind with "positive self talk". Here are some examples I found worked for me: 1. I am going to be okay. This has happened before and it will be over soon. 2. Just breathe...breathe. 3. My heart is beating rapidly, but it will slow down and I am not having a heart attack. 4. What is making me feel this way? 5. I am not going to faint. 6. The tingles in my hands, etc. are simply a reaction to my shallow breathing. I am not having a stroke. 7. Calm. Think calm thoughts. 8. I am not crazy or "abnormal". This is real and I know I can cope with it. (There are many resources available which teach you how to calm the mind and body).
These things, along with many other techniques used for calming the mind and body, will help greatly in reducing or eliminating your attacks. But, first, you have to see a doctor. I cannot emphasize that enough. If it's recommended that you seek counseling, please don't be afraid to do it. There is nothing wrong with it! You are simply helping yourself. Medication may or may not be prescribed, but it is available if needed through your doctor. I did a lot of reading on anxiety and panic disorders. I found the more I educated myself, the better off I was. I also asked a lot of questions both of my doctor and of my counselor. I wanted to know why this was happening to me. I needed to get to the root of a very real problem. I began to exercise, incorporating deep breathing into my routine. This helped tremendously.
Whatever road your doctor and/or professional mental health care provider put you on, you will be on the road to recovery. There is much more information on anxiety disorders and ways to help you get through the attacks than this article will permit me to write. KNOW that there is help available to you. Many books have been written on this topic specifically designed to help you, step by step. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!