Before we get on this topic, I would like to clarify that there is a difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. Panic attacks are sudden and overwhelms a person with intense fear. That person would experience a fighting array of physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and even nausea. Anxiety attacks, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is part of a number of psychiatric disorders. It is triggered when one is in anticipation of a stressful situation or event. Symptoms include worry, restlessness and a sudden onset of fear.
A close friend of mine recently confided in me how he has been feeling over the past couple of months ever since his long-time girlfriend broke up with him. He confessed that since the breakup, he’s experienced several anxiety attacks but has never mentioned it. He wanted to get over it by pushing his emotions aside, but it was actually affecting his daily life. For example, every night, he would anticipate going to work and feeling heartbroken as his ex would usually give him a “good morning call at 10am. The thought of it made him fear looking at the clock at 10am. However, every time at around 9.50am, he would feel his heart racing and find it hard to breathe as he was anticipating feeling the pain at 10am.
The unfortunate truth is that my friend isn't alone in his predicament; many people suffer from anxiety-related issues and their plights are often silent ones. The trouble with harbouring personal demons is that such an act often results in the erosion of the self. Leaving anxiety untreated can have a negative impact on our mental and emotional health that only ends up feeding the condition, making things progressively worse over time.
Anxiety drives our bodies mad
When anxiety hits us, our bodies react badly - I’m talking migraines, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, tense muscles, etc.. The more you ignore it, the harder these physical symptoms will hit you the next round.
The pit gets deeper
There’s only so much your mind and body can take. If you choose to continue ignoring the distress signals your mind and body are sending due to your anxiety, your anxiety may develop into a full blown anxiety attack.
Anxiety may drive you to do things you might regret
When you start experiencing anxiety or anxiety attacks, you might turn to drinking excessively, saying things that you do not mean to people you love, or even having a meltdown in public as a form of coping. These actions often come with consequences that you will most likely end up regretting.
If anxiety tends to get the best of you at times, then here are some pointers that just might help:
Take a positive outlook on your negative feelings
Every time you feel your anxiety kicking in, take a minute to recognise the signals your body is sending you. Use these signals to guide you towards your next step. For example, if you realise that your anxiety is accompanied by shortness of breath, start practising breathing exercises or simple meditation so that you may apply them the next time it happens.
Recognise your escape plan
What are the things you do to escape how you’re feeling? Do you drink, indulge in your favourite junk food? You justify it with the reason that you’re making yourself feel good but it still does not change the fact that you’re dealing with it. Find your escape plan and stop running towards it. Deal with your anxiety before rewarding yourself.
Don't react; respond
During anxiety attacks, you may find yourself reacting according to your instincts which may lead to bad decisions. When that happens, ground yourself. Stop and think about what you’re about to do. Count to five or ten, if you have to. This gives your brain time to choose your response wisely instead of just running wild with your emotions.
Anxiety is no laughing matter. At its worst, it affects your everyday life as well as the people around you. If you find it hard to master it by yourself, seek professional help. You may want to start by talking to family and friends whom you trust. Not everyone can handle this by themselves; sometimes a little support and love goes a long way.