Let’s talk about… Anxiety

I want to start by reminding you I’m not a professional, but still a psychology student. A passionate student who wants to help in any possible way, but a student nonetheless. That said, let’s talk about anxiety.There are different forms of anxiety, which I’ll try to tell you about in the easiest and clearest way I can. Basically there are different kinds of fear to keep in mind when speaking of anxiety disorders. There is fear, which is the basic emotion you’ll feel when something scary happens. This is may be a bodily response, like your heartbeat speeding up or your muscles tensing, getting ready to fight or flight. It could also be a mental response of thoughts to help make sense of what just happened or to help you stay alert to the situation. Fear normally doesn’t last very long.

Then there is worry. This is a feeling that can last somewhat longer. You may have thoughts of things that could happen, like worrying about being alone on a dark night on your way home and thinking about what might be hiding in the shadows. Or when someone hasn’t come home on time and worrying if something happened to this person. Or much simpler even, thinking about needing to study because otherwise you won’t get a high enough grade to pass a class.

Anxiety is more of a longer lasting uneasiness. Usually it consists of being afraid of something and worrying about it, leading to the restless feeling known as anxiety.

All these feelings are normal. Everybody has them and experiences them in some way or another. And this is okay. Being afraid, worrying and even feeling anxious is something that happens to all of us and we shouldn’t feel as if we are not allowed to be scared of things. However, people who suffer from anxiety disorder experience these feelings more often and more intense than most people. It interferes with their lives and may even lead to them withdrawing from the things that they used to like, for example hanging out with friends, going out for dinner or to the cinema.

In psychology there are 4 different disorders related to anxiety, together they are grouped within the term anxiety disorder. The disorders are panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, phobias and social anxiety. Around 15% of adolescents suffer or have suffered from some form of an anxiety disorder, which is a lot. That’s about 1 in 6. So it’s very likely there are quite a few people who are going through the same thing you are. You just don’t know/see it. Maybe they don’t even know it yet themselves.

I’ll start with telling you a little more about panic disorder, which is something I have suffered/suffer from as well.

A lot of people will experience a panic attack once or a few times in their lives. It actually happens quite a lot and doesn’t have to have a negative effect on someone’s life. So if you have suffered from one or a few panic attacks this isn’t necessarily something to worry about. But there is a difference between a ‘regular’ panic attack and a panic attack that is associated with panic disorder.

‘Regular’ panic attacks are usually brought on by a real threat, or something your body and mind perceive as a real threat, but it can also happen after something threatening has happened. Such a threat can cause you to worry a lot and not be able to think clearly. Your heart can start to race, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded or faint, your breathing can become shallow and quicker or you might even start to hyperventilate. These seem to be the most well-known symptoms of a panic attack. What I (and with me a lot of other people) didn’t know was that you can also start to feel nauseous, have a stomach or headache, that your muscles can tense up and you can start shaking or shivering. Mentally you might feel like you are going crazy, or even as if you’re going to die (both are not the case).panic-attack-symptoms

During a panic attack adrenaline can be released, this is a neurotransmitter that will help your body get ready to fight or flight and helps you stay alert. But after adrenaline has done its job and stops working, the aftermath can leave you exhausted (because your body has used its energy to prepare for fight or flight). This is the reason you can feel completely drained after having a panic attack. The adrenaline in your body will make your body alert, so the symptoms I told you about can be produced by the adrenaline rushing through your veins. It can make you breathe faster, to help you bring more oxygen into your system, your heart will beat faster to take all this oxygen to all your organs as quick as possible.adrenaline-makes-your-body-stand-on-high-alert

This adrenaline needs to get burned up by your body, which happens through the processes listed above, but you can make it happen quicker. This is what a lot of people (consciously or unconsciously) do during a panic attack. Some people may start waving their hands, do some exercises or go for a run. I will start pacing back and forth if I’m having a bad one. A panic attack usually last for a few minutes up to 20 minutes. It is however possible to have a multiple panic attacks after each other.

As I said to experience a panic attack isn’t strange or uncommon. But when it happens often and without an apparent reason it can become problematic.

So what can you do when you’re having a panic attack or feel one coming on?
I want to stress that you can seek help from a professional. They can help you change your thoughts or thought patterns through cognitive behavioural therapy, for example. Because your thoughts are usually the culprit in keeping the attacks coming. But I can give you a few tips that I have found useful myself.

Breathing slowly and steadily is very important. When you feel yourself getting dizzy, lightheaded or faint, this is most likely because you are breathing in too much oxygen and breathing out too little carbon dioxide. With the most extreme case being hyperventilating. You can try to breathe in for 3 to 4 seconds, hold it for 1 to 2 seconds and breathe out for 4 seconds, wait for 1 to 2 seconds and breathe in again. You can practice this 2 or 3 times a day as well, to make it feel normal which makes it easier to do when you’re feeling panicky.

Another thing that is very hard, but very helpful, is to stop fighting. I understand you want the panic to GO AWAY. But by just worrying and fighting it, chances are it’ll only get worse. Try to endure it and see what it does, focus on your breathing and see if it gets worse, stays the same or maybe even (slowly) starts getting better. I’ve found it rarely gets worse if I do this.

If you can, you could try to get away from the thing that makes you anxious, go to someplace you can focus on yourself. If you can’t I’ve found it helpful to distracts myself by drawing or sketching on something. I usually draw simple things like squares, circles, triangles and flowers for a little until I feel myself calm down. It also helps a lot to tell the people closest to you, so they can understand what’s going on.

It isn’t always visible on the outside when someone’s having a panic attack, so it can be a huge comfort to tell people why you sometimes withdraw a little or can’t do certain things when you are panicking. You can also tell them what you want them to do in such a situation. Some people like someone to distract them, others just want to be left alone. I, for example, don’t want to be touched UNLESS I initiate the contact during an attack. I usually feel like I’m getting sensory overload when I’m panicking and every sensation is one too many. Most people are very understanding and accepting if you tell them.

I hope this post may have helped someone deal with their panic attacks, or help someone understand a bit more about what happens during a panic attack. In the next posts I will continue to talk about the other anxiety disorders.

Contact me if you have any questions, I’ll try my best to help! If you have any tips on how to deal with a panic attack, share it in the comments!



Become part of our Random world by joining me on FacebookBloglovin’, Instagram and Twitter.

  • Marita Meijers

    Merci! Prima en verhelderend artikel!