Anxiety is a natural mechanism for the body to alert the brain of dangerous situations.
Before we evolved into humans, this would have been particularly useful in the wild and would cause us to either fight, flee or freeze, giving us a chance to beat our enemy and imminent threat.
Our brain puts us on high alert, our ears are pricked to listen out for any change or new sound; blood is pumped through our body, giving us the ability to work our muscles quickly and run away fast or the energy to start fighting.
Fortunately we are not living in a cave or running away from Saber toothed lions.
Then what’s the point in having this ridiculous reaction? And how do I make it go away?
I’ll show you how. Just scroll down.
These symptoms and panic attack signs will usually occur if we are put in a stressful situation. The concern arises when we start feeling like this without actually being exposed to a stress factor.
In modern life, we also don’t really condone fighting, or even freezing or fleeing from situations, so not being able to properly release from the stressful situation can make things feel a hundred times worse.
When anxiety increases or occurs over prolonged timeframes, you may also start suffering from panic attacks.
Ten healthy ways to overcome anxiety and stop a panic attack – This article gives you a good understanding of what anxiety and panic attacks are; anxiety causes, the signs to look out for, and most importantly, my 10 tips for dealing with and overcoming anxiety.
What are anxiety and panic attacks?
Anxiety is the feeling of nervousness and worrying about a specific situation. A panic attack is when those anxious feelings you were experiencing develop into a sudden intense and debilitating physical episode when there is actually no apparent or real danger present.
Your body reacts so severely, and your heart may pump so hard and fast, that people often think they are having a heart attack or even dying.
Anxiety and Panic Attack Signs
Anxiety and panic attacks start off with the same signs. Initially, you might just feel a little edgy, nervous, worried, but this may increase and continue to last for longer than it should.
If that is the case and you start feeling like these emotions are controlling you, rather than being a supportive flag to warn you of real danger, it may be time to get help.
Anxiety causes and panic attack signs to look out for include:
- feeling nervous, on edge, or panicky all the time
- feeling dread or overwhelmed
- things being out of control
- not sleeping well
- lacking in appetite
- struggling to concentrate
- feeling lethargic or tired
- being grumpy
- feeling like you are lacking in energy
- your heart beating really quickly
- feeling like you might be going through a heart attack
- a very dry mouth
- suffering from trembling
- feeling faint
- stomach cramps and/or diarrhea and/or needing to urinate more often
- excessive sweating
- feeling like your legs are wobbly
- getting very hot
- chest pains
- feeling tingling and numbness
Displaying a few of these symptoms does not automatically mean you are going through a panic attack, but having them again and again, for longer periods of time, especially in situations where such a severe reaction is not warranted, may mean that you are suffering from anxiety causes and panic attacks.
It may be affecting your everyday life and so speaking to someone else may help you.
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Panic attack and anxiety causes
Anxiety causes and the reasons why people have panic attacks are numerous. Usually, people suffer only one or two episodes in their lifetime. The event is managed and the person recovers.
For others it is a more present threat; in such cases, it may be called a ‘panic disorder’.
Anxiety and panic attacks causes are typically:
- A major, stressful event in your life.
- Genetic predisposition.
- Some people’s temperaments are more prone to suffering than others.
- Specific changes to the brain’s function, perhaps as a result of physical trauma or disease.
Who can be affected
Panic disorders typically start in late teens or early adulthood. Women are more affected than men. There are other risk factors, which may make you more predisposed to suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, and these include:
- Smoking or drinking alcohol or caffeine excessively.
- Family history.
- A traumatic event, such as abuse, assault, or rape.
- A death or major illness of a loved one.
- A major life event, such as divorce or the birth of a child.
Examples of the things that people feel anxious about
The sad thing about suffering from anxiety and panic attacks is the feeling of shame that often accompanies the other symptoms.
People feel ashamed that they suffer from anxiety and panic attacks in situations that the rest of society views as everyday goings-on and things we should not have an issue with.
Just because other people don’t struggle, does not mean it isn’t causing a problem for you. Here are the kinds of things some people suffering from anxiety say:
“I worry about being in large groups of people. That I will freeze when someone asks me something. I get this even when it is people I know well and are friends of mine”.
“I start feeling anxious when I have to go outside. Coronavirus has made things much worse. How do I avoid catching the virus? It must be floating all around me, coming from all these other people. I start to feel ill, my tummy churns and I need the loo. I don’t want to leave the house when I am like that.”
“I am a senior manager at my company. I am very young for my position and climbed the ranks quickly. Every day I worry that someone will realize that I am a complete fraud, that I can’t do my job. It is stopping me from doing my work properly – I can’t even think straight or make decisions. I just freeze. I think I may lose my job or be fired soon as a result.”
Feeling anxious is a very isolating experience. But there is help out there to make things easier to bear.
What you can do to treat anxiety and panic attacks
There’s no sure way to prevent panic attacks or panic disorder. However, there are 3 main ways in which anxiety and panic attacks can be managed. For some, one technique does the trick, for others, a combination of all three is required.
You may also find that one treatment works only in certain situations, whereas something else is needed in others.
The 3 techniques are:
1) Self care
Self care. It sounds so wishy-washy. Is it really a thing? Will it actually have a meaningful impact on my life? The answer is yes.
There are changes that you can make to your day-to-day that will result in a positive outcome. Some ideas for self care are easier to implement than others but get yourself feeling as good as you can and all areas of your life will benefit from it.
I really value self care and it has done wonders for my life. Having suffered from the biggest shock of my life a number of years ago (finding out that my unusual balance issues and other weird symptoms were the early onset of ALS) I have been willing to try out just about anything to see whether it can improve my life.
You may think self care sounds really selfish – focusing on just yourself. In some ways it is, but if you are incapacitated you won’t be of any use to anyone else.
A content mind and body will make a tough situation easier to bear and those around you will want to be by your side. Read all about it in my blog What is Self Care and Why You Should Care.
Talking your concerns through can help you get to the root of your anxiety causes. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) allows you to work through your thoughts and feelings with a professional, trained to look out and guide you to help you develop strategies to cope with anxiety.
They may teach you practical techniques to implement when you start feeling nervous and anxious too.
Medication is usually prescribed alongside therapy. Medication is likely to only address the symptoms, rather than resolve or help manage the underlying cause.
Antidepressants are usually what is prescribed for treating anxiety causes, but each individual case will be assessed by a doctor.
Complications of anxiety causes if left untreated
The fear of living with anxiety and panic attacks can have prolonged and severe negative complications, potentially ruining the quality of your life. These could be anything from the following:
- Development of specific phobias, such as fear of driving or leaving your home
- Frequent medical care for health concerns and other medical conditions
- Avoidance of social situations
- Problems at work or school
- Depression, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric disorders
- Increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts
- Alcohol or abuse of other substances
- Financial problems
- Extreme reliance on others to get shopping done, paying bills, managing day-to-day life
Ten healthy ways to overcome anxiety and stop a panic attack
Having tried and tested self care, therapy, and medication to treat anxiety, I can give you my list of top 10 go-tos to deal with situations when I start feeling a little wobbly:
- Relax your body. Changing your physical demeanor does have an emotional impact. Forcing a smile alone will help you feel better. To relax follow this set of steps: drop your shoulders down, away from your ears and unclench your jaw and let your tongue fall down, no longer glued to the roof of your mouth. Easy. But it really works!
- Close your eyes and imagine that your worries are a real, physical thing; perhaps a dark bird, or a cloud. Imagine them floating away from you. See the bird or cloud drift off, as you start to feel calmer, less burdened by those concerns. Read more about Holistic Healing and Self Care in my blog too.
- Create a self-soothe box: find a container you like the look of or decorate it. Collect and store items in that box that you like looking at, or smell or feel nice. Exciting your sensory receptors will help distract you from painful, anxious thoughts and makes you focus on something positive for that moment instead.
- Phone a friend for a chat. This is a distraction and they may also share some useful advice.
- Practice deep breathing techniques. The University of Michigan has a good regime to follow.
- Give someone a big hug. Get those endorphins pulsing.
- Get some fresh air, go for a run or a walk. Take in the wonder of nature and you will feel distracted and re-energized.
- Have a relaxing bath or shower. Use scented oils and play music.
- Focus on a hobby, be it painting, cooking, reading or whatever you enjoy.
- Do some exercise. Gone are the days I could go out for a long run, but sitting outdoors, doing basic stretches still really helps.
You may worry that your life is so busy as it is, that you won’t be able to fit any time in for self care. Have a read of my blog Self Care in a Busy World for tips on how to manage this.
Who you can talk to
The best place to start is to talk to someone you trust. The old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ does often hold true. Your confidant may have similar experiences or advice worth trying.
Next, I’d suggest you speak to a specialist. Doctors are usually the easiest port of call, but professional advice centers or charities will be very knowledgeable too.
The medical profession will also be able to direct you to local support groups and the Anxiety and Depression Association for America is a good place to start. You may be offered regular check-ups to see how you are progressing, as well as suggestions for different types of treatment.
Online chat forums can be useful too, as there you will meet many people in a similar situation to you. You will see how you are not alone, not the only person going through what you are experiencing.
I was lost in a dark place for a very long time. I know how easily life can get the better of you.
Anxiety is real and panic attacks are frightening.
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