Managing Anxiety - Living with Panic and Anxiety Attacks
My Experience of Anxiety
My experience of living with Panic and Anxiety Attacks began at age 18. I was flying from London to LA with my family on our first ever long haul flight and had been worrying about the flight for weeks. As we stepped onto the plane I started to feel the first chokehold of fear rising in my chest, my heartbeat increased, my throat tightened and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. These symptoms became all too familiar over the next 10 years as my anxiety disorder culminated in panic attacks on a frequent basis, sometimes as many as 5 attacks in one day.
So, what's the difference?
The main difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is that an anxiety attack has a “cause” if you will (money, work, family stress, fear of flying etc.) and will gradually build up over time achieving a peak. A panic attack will hit suddenly with no tangible “trigger” and peak in between 10-20 minutes. The end result is usually the same: racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, a feeling of impending doom, tingling in the hands and sometimes in my worst attacks – inability to speak or form words.
For me, my undiagnosed anxiety disorder meant that I often felt isolated and that I was the only person in the world who had the thoughts I had. This meant I rarely spoke about my fears and allowed them to grow bigger and bigger resulting in a nasty combination of OCD-like behavior (obsession with cleanliness, fear that I was going to be poisoned by germs, obsessive washing) and panic attacks which nearly ruined my first year at University.
Can you relate?
If any of this sounds familiar – you are not alone! Simply by finding a therapist through my Uni I was able to find someone to talk to and relate to which took an enormous amount of pressure off and allowed me some breathing space to look into alternative treatments and find one that worked for me.
So, what can be done?
Personally – the main difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks lies in the way you can treat them. During a panic attack I would count backwards from 10 slowly whilst breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. I would also try to leave whichever space I was in and walk for a while to burn through the adrenaline that is released during the “Flight or fight” part of a panic attack. Sometimes I would phone a friend I trusted and knew about the attacks who could distract me. Even listening to music helped sometimes!
For my anxiety attacks/disorder I have found many healthy and also not so healthy things that have helped. Alcohol and drugs worked for a long time until they didn’t and actually started making things a lot, lot worse. Realising I had addiction issues helped me to find meditation, yoga, chanting, reiki and mindfulness techniques that have truly given me the power to overcome my anxiety – one day at a time.