Panic attacks feel like a close encounter with death. The feelings of being choked for air, losing the sensation of your hands and feet, feeling distant from your body, and bordering on losing consciousness are all things no one wants to experience again. Yet, as scary as panic attacks are, they’re your body’s way of telling you something has to change. You can no longer suppress your feelings and emotions—they’ve risen to the top, and they want recognition.
The good news is that anxiety, which is what causes panic attacks, is entirely manageable. In fact, it’s built into our bodies as a normal biological response to keep us safe from danger, warn us when a threat is near, and even drive us to finish things on time. For instance, driving in the dark during a snowstorm might trigger the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, and prepare our body to “fight” because we sense danger. Because of this, you might take extra caution to slow down and drive safely.
While a little anxiety is good sometimes, it becomes a problem when a person remains anxious and allows these feelings to control them. When anxious feelings spiral out of control, they can deeply hinder a person’s well-being, happiness, ability to work, relationships with others, and quality of life. While suffering from anxiety can feel isolating, it is pretty prevalent. Nearly 40 million U.S. adults are dealing with prolonged anxiety. Fortunately, anxiety is also highly treatable.
Continue reading to dispel misconceptions and explore:
- What anxiety looks like
- What can trigger anxiety
- Short-term and long-term tips for dealing with anxiety
- Effects of letting anxiety linger
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety is the very real and normal emotion we feel in a stressful situation. Its related to fear. But while fear is a response to an immediate threat that quickly subsides, anxiety is a response to more uncertain threats that tends to last much longer.
Dr. Jen Gunter
The characteristics of anxiety don’t fit neatly into a box. The symptoms and severity present themselves differently for everyone. If anxiety is triggered by a traumatic event, for example, feelings of depression or fatigue may rise. If anxiety is triggered by family issues, then general tension, bursts of anger, and crying could indicate anxiety. There is no one-size-fits-all appearance for an anxiety disorder.
There are, however, some generally common signs and symptoms to watch for. The key is to monitor how long these symptoms are occurring. It’s normal to respond to a stressful or emotional event in some of these ways in the short term. But if any of these symptoms continue past the immediate trigger, you should seek medical advice.
6 of the Most Common Signs of Anxiety
- General fatigue
- Increased negative and worrying thoughts
- Feelings of dread and depression
- Decreased appetite or nausea
- Panic attacks (increased heart rate, dizziness, sense of loss of control)
What Triggers Anxiety?
The people who trigger us to feel negative emotions are messengers. They are messengers for the unhealed parts of our being.
We all have things going on in our lives that we have to deal with. Having moments of anxiety is natural and part of that. The key is to watch when or if these things start to affect our mental health and well-being.
When it comes to anxiety, the question isn’t so much what triggers it, as is often researched. The question is: What can cause normal feelings of anxiety to become an anxiety disorder? Here are some common triggers for anxiety disorder.
Common Catalysts for Anxiety Disorder
- Relationally-based emotional encounter (contact with an ex-spouse, child, or loved one)
- Traumatic event or childhood trauma
- Stress buildup
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Genetics and brain chemistry
When we experience these common catalysts, especially over a more extended period, our emotional responses can become overreactive or inappropriate. This is called emotional dysregulation and is often the basis for anxiety and panic attacks.
Emotional dysregulation occurs when a person cannot control their emotional responses to provocative stimuli or even what they’re responding to. This can look like someone becoming unnecessarily angry at a restaurant server for making an error on the check. Or someone who suddenly becomes easily overwhelmed by small tasks. The level of their reactions doesn’t align with the event, which indicates an anxiety disorder.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that about 6.8 million U.S. adults suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That’s about 3.1 percent of the population.
Common Types of Anxiety
Anxiety comes in many forms. Some may struggle with more socially-related situations or work anxiety, while internal thoughts may trigger others. It’s important to acknowledge that while anxiety is something we all share, it can escalate and present itself differently for each of us.
Three Types of Anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When everyday events begin to bring about excessive negative thoughts and worry for no reason, this may be a generalized anxiety disorder. Low serotonin may be the cause, in which case antidepressants may help if standard self-care doesn’t. Seek medical advice if this sounds familiar.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: A person who experiences irrational anxiety and self-consciousness from regular social interactions with others may have a social anxiety disorder. Talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressants can help increase confidence and self-esteem.
- Work anxiety: Business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders can become quickly engulfed in the demands of their roles. Learn to let go, delegate, and reconnect with your purpose when work begins to feel overwhelming. This will help reduce work anxiety.
What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?
Sometimes, when an emotional trigger is powerful, a person with an anxiety disorder may suddenly feel completely overwhelmed with emotion. They may begin to experience shortness of breath, trembling, nausea, dizziness, and a general feeling of loss of control. This is a panic attack, and having frequent and unexpected panic attacks may indicate a panic disorder.
Panic attacks are frightening, both for the person experiencing them and for anyone who may witness it, but they are not inherently dangerous. They typically only last five to thirty minutes and can be self-treated with the right tools.
How to Deal with a Panic Attack
- As it’s happening, remind yourself that it is caused by anxiety.
- Keep yourself busy and ride it out.
- Don’t run from it. Accept that it is just anxiety and you will be okay in a few minutes.
- Confront what it is that’s causing the attack.
- Focus on your surroundings.
- Practice slow, deep breathing exercises.
To someone experiencing these symptoms, it can feel like they’re the only ones struggling. It’s important to remember, though, that many people are dealing with anxiety disorders and emotional dysregulation and that it is entirely treatable.
Short-Term Tips for Dealing with Anxiety
Every moment is a fresh beginning.
Anxiety coping skills can help reduce its occurrence and severity. Fortunately, there are many things you can do in the immediate moment to help ease feelings of anxiety.
Ways to Ease Anxiety
- Practice mind/body connection exercises
- Use essential oils and aromatherapy
- Go for a walk or do yoga
- Meditate or pray
- Talk to a friend
- Spend time with a pet
Really, anything that brings you joy and comfort can be anxiety-reducing. If you’re feeling anxious, refocus your mind, eliminate distractions, think about what it is that you enjoy doing, and do that. Sometimes even just spending a few minutes to breathe, meditate, pray, or refocus can help restore balance.
Long-Term Tips for Dealing with Anxiety
We now know that genetics are of course part of the story, though our lifestyle choices and our environments play a great role in whether or not we get the symptoms of anxiety or, the more extreme version, panic.
dr. nicole lapera, “the holistic pyschologist”
Those struggling with a prolonged anxiety disorder may find doing some deeper inner work and making lifestyle adjustments to be helpful. A lot of times, not having a clear sense of purpose, direction, or routine can make us feel disjointed. Figuring out how to find yourself and develop daily habits that support that can be instrumental for dealing with anxiety.
Long-Term Ways to Manage Anxiety
- Understand your identity: Having a clear sense of who you are, what you stand for, and your purpose is so important. This insight and confidence will give you the perspective you need to live fully and healthfully. Things that may have triggered you before will dissipate as your awareness strengthens.
- Develop healthy daily routines: Simple habits like waking up thirty minutes earlier to go for a morning walk or journal before starting your day can make a big difference. Examine your current daily routine. Is there something you enjoy doing that you can add to it? What can you prioritize that will help reduce stress or promote joy?
- Make lifestyle adjustments: What you eat, how much sleep you get (or don’t get), and your amount of self-care can have profound effects on stress, anxiety, and even work burnout. Make any lifestyle adjustments necessary so that you’re taking care of your mind and body. Cut out sugar, reduce caffeine and alcohol, go to bed early, and consume nutrient-dense foods.
- Check-in with yourself: Begin a habit of checking in with yourself throughout the day. How are you feeling in the moment? Are you relaxed? Nervous? Focused? Spend time examining and recognizing your emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, give it a friendly nod and remind yourself that it’s normal and temporary.
- Practice mindfulness and presence: Take time to pause and observe moments throughout the day. Appreciate the present. When you eat your lunch, for example, avoid scrolling through your phone. Or when you’re with a friend, be present and just listen. Our thoughts can sweep us into worry, but practicing mindfulness can help you stay grounded and balanced.
Natural vs. Pharmaceutical Solutions
Anxiety is nothing more than nervous energy in your body. This energy rises and falls just like waves on the ocean.
Treatment should be sought if anxiety is beginning to affect your ability to handle normal activities and situations. But what’s the right treatment? Are natural methods effective enough, or is medication needed? This all depends on the severity of your anxiety and how the symptoms are presenting themselves. Determining the right course of treatment is entirely individual to the person’s specific needs and concerns.
When it comes to pharmaceutical solutions, antidepressants (SSRIs and SNRIs) and benzodiazepines are the two most commonly prescribed medications to treat anxiety. They each effectively target the area of our brain responsible for causing the symptoms so that we may better manage situations when they arise. Antidepressants generally take two to six weeks to begin working. Benzodiazepines begin working within hours. These medications are a good solution for some, but their side effects should also be carefully considered:
Common Side Effects of Antidepressants:
- Weight gain
- Sexual disfunction
- Thoughts of suicide
Common Side Effects of Benzodiazepines:
- Possible dependency and subsequent withdrawal symptoms
Some experts, like Dr. Nicole LaPera, feel that treatment should first begin with natural, healthy strategies and lifestyle adjustments. She says that even just “learning how to move our bodies in slow and gentle ways” (like with yin yoga) and “tuning into your breathing” can help reduce symptoms of anxiety naturally. The National Institute of Mental Health also recommends joining a self-help or support group and using exercise, mindfulness, and meditation as daily stress management techniques.
Effects of Letting Anxiety Linger
We often feel like we don’t have time to declutter because we’re too busy consuming new stuff and information. But at some point, all this busyness is leading us to mental and emotional exhaustion.
Anxiety and stress, unmanaged for an extended period of time, otherwise known as chronic anxiety, take their toll on the body. It’s estimated that 43% of adults have compromised health as a direct result of stress. Leaving an anxiety disorder untreated can lead to more disruptive, physical, and even life-threatening problems. In fact, as much as 75-90% of doctor’s visits are stress-related.
Entirely removing stress from your life isn’t a realistic goal. However, managing stress—accepting it and respecting it—can be life-changing. Consider including stress management tactics in your life to build the skillset to effectively manage stress, such as:
- Getting regular exercise
- Implementing a morning routine that includes quiet time like prayer or meditation
- Regular journaling
- Opening up to a close friend about your anxiety
- Prioritizing sleep
- Consuming nutrient-dense foods packed with B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids
- Reducing taxing foods on your body like sugary, processed foods
- Limiting or cutting out caffeine and alcohol
- Exploring your negative feelings when they occur instead of pushing them away
- Confronting your limiting beliefs with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
For information on how to effectively handle stress and anxiety as a leader, continue on by reading 8 Strategies for Handling Work Stress as a Leader and Anxiety at Work: How to Cope With It.
Source: Cosmo Politian