I have had another article printed in Valley Scene Magazine. This time I was given an assignment I was happy with – the topic was anxiety. Having had a history myself with anxiety, I wrote a 1500 word story I was quite proud of. Then the editor gets back to me with a request to cut it down to 650 words. WHAT??? I almost cried. It was so difficult. But anyway…
Here is the result:
For anyone interested…here is the original article…
A surge comes over her like a warm electrical shock. Instantly her throat begins to tighten and palms begin to sweat. All of her muscles ache and she begins to tremble. “Oh no, not again,” she thinks to herself in dread. She becomes more aware of her breathing and it appears to be rapid and shallow. Her mind starts to spin and her heart races noticeably. Something terrible must be happening; could this be the end? Terrifying thoughts and uncomfortable, scary feelings – both mentally and physically – overcome her. This can last for a few minutes or even a couple hours. Finally when it is over she is so exhausted and drained, though relieved she is still alive. She may get depressed at the fact that this keeps happening and she has no idea why. Perhaps others in her life are not supportive or understanding which makes it all the more difficult to defend her sanity. What she needs to realize is that she is indeed sane. What is happening is not her fault or even in her control. And most of all, her life is not in danger. She is likely having anxiety/panic attacks.
The first thing that should be mentioned is the importance of a full and complete physical workup when faced with any new and concerning symptoms. Many of these symptoms can indeed be created by a physical or physiological problem such as a thyroid dysfunction, a heart arrhythmia, a hormonal imbalance or a number of other issues that can usually be easily ruled out with a number of tests and blood work. Once a clean bill of health is stamped upon one’s chart, it is time to look elsewhere for relief.
Anxiety and Panic Disorder is not as understood as we would like it to be. As with most disorders, the whys and whats are not black and white with definitive answers. But there are many options for recovery.
While interviewing and researching this topic, I have learned that there are basically three schools of thought on the topic as to the reasons one develops an Anxiety Disorder (including Panic Disorder involving Panic Attacks). Some believe that it is strictly psychological. Perhaps something occurred during childhood; a traumatic event at some point in life that sparked this reaction to the psyche. Others believe that it is brought on by physiological and physical causes. Adrenal sensitivity, vagel nerve disruption, as well as many other possibilities are some of the suggested suspects. And then there are a large group of those who believe it is a combination of the two. A person could have simply been born with a strong sensitivity to stimuli and when a trauma occurred in their past – the flame was ignited. Therefore, some may have a predisposition to the disorder and it is eventually sparked by an event.
As I said, it is not a black and white issue. There is no right or wrong when determining the causes of Anxiety Disorders. One woman I spoke with began having panic attacks at the age of 12 after being molested by an older relative. Another woman admitted that she has had no traumatic experience or past circumstances that would appear to be the cause – that the attacks just started happening out of nowhere when she was at the most content moment in her life.
What I have noticed in speaking with so many people with Anxiety and Panic is the vast amount of them who have health related anxiety. Once having an attack, they are then so focused on their bodies and how they are feeling. Many of these people tend to notice things that others without the disorder would never notice. A slight increase in blood pressure, body temperature raising a mere degree, a minor heart palpitation…these are all things that most of the population would never recognize. But to people who have an Anxiety disorder, these disruptions and discomforts are pronounced and very much present. Sufferers of these disorders tend to have heightened awareness and extreme sensitivity. Where that becomes almost debilitating (and for some, completely debilitating) is when a person begins to castastrophize. This is very common among those with Anxiety Disorders. Catastrophizing is basically a consuming thought process that makes the person think that the worst possible thing is going to happen. For example, one may have a headache and begin to believe it is an aneurysm. Or a stomach ache could be cancer. Certainly any chest discomfort is a heart attack in the mind of a catastrophizer.
Brandyn explains how Panic affected his life, “I could have sworn that I was dying. I became agoraphobic and never left the house. I didn’t work, socialize with friends, drive, or take trips.”
And what is worse is that it is a vicious circle that spins and spins until the right stick is able to be stuck in the spokes of this whirlwind. Once one has an attack, they begin to fear subsequent attacks. This fear brings on the “what if” thinking that may stop them from doing certain daily things. If someone has an attack in a grocery store – they may then avoid grocery stores. This feeds into the fear and gives fuel to the disorder. Once and attack begins, the body releases adrenaline due to our natural fight or flight reaction that is instinct in all of us in case of danger. But for those with Anxiety Disorder, our fight or flight reaction occurs at inappropriate times – when not in danger. When this adrenaline is released it increases the breathing which can cause hyperventilation. It also tightens muscles which is what gives that closed throat and chest muscle discomfort. It causes perspiration and racing hearts. This is what adrenaline does. But when it happens out of the blue, it can certainly be alarming and worrisome. It is such an uncomfortable and scary experience that for those who it happens to begin to fear it happening again. The more fear that is existing, the more likely it is to have another attack. So basically, the physical symptoms cause the fear and the fear causes the physical symptoms. Round and round it goes until proper remedies are found.
The road to recovery from this nasty disorder is certainly different for everyone. Many find that meditation and relaxation techniques are enough to keep the disorder at bay. Others benefit immensely from different types of counseling. Biofeedback, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Talk Therapy are all very useful to many people. And there are also many of those who need medication to get back on that even keel they may not have felt for many years. Like therapy, there are also different forms of medications.
Brandyn did eventually find some relief, “Through medication and therapy I learned breathing exercises and the "ride the wave" method of thinking. It’s based on the idea that you have to ride the wave of anxiety. The anxiety will peak and then it will subside. All you have to do is ride it out and you will be ok. For the last 5 years I have led a relatively normal life. “
And Amy, another person diagnosed with Panic Disorder states, “It took years to find what really worked for me. Meditation never worked and breathing exercises seemed to make things worse. But through talk therapy and finding the right medication – I have been symptom free for over three years.”
A treatment plan would be discussed and decided upon between the patient and their mental health professional. For many, taking that first step towards professional help is the most difficult. But it is obviously the most crucial. In this day and age there is simply no reason to live this way. There are so many options out there to help one live a more relaxed and peaceful life. Imagining being free of worry, fear, and dread may seem impossible to those who have lived with this disorder for any length of time. But it is in fact very possible.
The truth is, we do not know how long we have on this planet. None of us do. Many of those with Panic and Anxiety Disorders often worry they are going to die. And while they are worrying about their mortality, they are not living life while they have it. We have these moments – right now. Disorder or no disorder, we need to live life in the time that we have. The best thing we can all do for ourselves is live life well. And living in a constant state of debilitating, painful and misunderstood agony is not living well. Help is out there and for those who are suffering, please seek it.
For more information on Anxiety and Panic Disorders, please check out the following websites: