Following on from my last article about depression, I wanted to address anxiety and panic attacks. I feel that there’s this stigma that if one has anxiety, it corresponds with being ‘too sensitive’ meaning that their mental illness is often overlooked. Anxiety is easily understood as our brain’s response to fear or nerves and this is confused with complete panic which is often uncontrolled and happens in the moment. It’s important to understand that anxiety and panic attacks are separate to one another but are related. Similarly, it’s also important to remember that experiencing anxiety in typical situations such as job interviews or in crowded places is considered ‘normal’. Stress sometimes provokes wanting to feel more adrenaline ; an example is when those situations we were anxious about before they happen, go completely fine in reality. Our anxiety and panic is considered a natural response as it is known to stem from the Stone Age era. This is when cavemen experienced survival anxiety from noticing predators around territory. In a sense, even now around 5,000 years later, individuals experience the same form of anxiety but it’s social based and less survival as evolution has dramatically changed.
Taken from the NHS website, anxiety is medically known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, abbreviated to GAD. Anxiety often feels to some, as this overwhelming pressure, possibly due to a certain situation they are in, specific surroundings or triggers. It’s feeling as if your world is about to come to an end at that very second. To others, it’s being nervous and apprehensive every minute, about meeting family, seeing friends and even attending work and school. Individuals often have differing symptoms, the same as any other medical illness.
Those that suffer with anxiety experience physical symptoms and psychological ones too. Psychological symptoms include constant restlessness, this may include not being able to settle in even amongst their most comfortable environments and being heavily distracted. Others may feel like they’re ‘on edge’ and become very irritable with loved ones.Physical symptoms can vary in intensity from one to the next. These can include becoming dizzy, feeling tired more often, experiencing heart palpitations and even muscle aches. Some individuals may have what is known as dry mouth, they may excessively sweat and have difficulty falling asleep at night.
With a myriad of triggers, no one is the same. However, it’s important to know the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack.
Panic attacks are the result of Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder and does not necessarily have a trigger for some. It refers to our bodies’ flight or fight response. These attacks may last from anywhere between 5 to 20 minutes. Rapid breathing, sweaty palms, hot flushes and feeling faint are all main clues that a panic attack is occuring. Anxiety attacks, however, tend to build gradually and are triggered by a specific situation or thing. Anxiety attacks share a lot of the same symptoms of panic attacks but anxiety can often be subdued in daily life compared to panic attacks which disrupt our daily lives.
Lastly, for those close to an individual experiencing anxiety, after noticing symptoms, the first step would be to possibly reach out via text or a phone call to chat. If talking isn’t an option the individual would prefer, there are many Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) examples that aid panic and anxiety. An example of CBT is switching focus and trying to focus less on negative thought cycles, e.g. if you have a break up, you may feel depressed and this may mean you are less likely to meet new people and seek supportive friendships. In turn, you are constantly likely to feel anxious about new people you meet and if they’ll act the same as a past partner causing you to be reluctant to break the cycle. There are additionally many online websites such as anxiety.org.uk and mind.org.uk that offer plenty of advice, tips and support with how to handle anxiety for you or your loved ones. As someone who’s experienced panic attacks, you are not alone.
Article by Young Reporter Beth Downes
First published in Grimsby Telegraph 15th Feb 2022