How do I know if my anxiety and panic is a problem?
Anxiety can mean different things to different people.
In fact, the definition can be so varied that The American Psychiatric Association made a point of clarifying the definition of an anxiety disorder. They publish and update on a regular basis, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Currently, the most up-to-date version is the fifth edition. The DSM-5 gives the necessary criteria for diagnosing mental conditions. Although this is published by the American Psychiatric Association, it is accepted as the global standard for diagnosing mental disorders.
The DSM-5 is what your mental health professional will use to clarify your symptoms and formulate a diagnosis. For the purpose of this publication, let’s examine the typical symptoms with the sole intention to help you understand what is going on with your body’s responses.
In other words, I want to provide information that you can use to help you figure out if you need to seek further guidance.
Typical Symptoms of Anxiety
Here are the typical symptoms of anxiety:
• Feeling nervous or feeling anxious.
• Worrying a lot about various things.
• You spend the majority of your waking hours worrying.
• Once you start worrying you are not able to stop or control the worry.
• You find it difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
• The worrisome thoughts cause you to feel restless, you are unable to be calm physically and mentally.
• Because you are worrying so much, you have become easily annoyed or irritable to those around you.
• The constant worry has you feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen.
As you reflect on these symptoms, are they causing any of the following to occur:
• Because of anxiety/panic you are frequently missing work or school?
• Because of a fear you frequently miss social obligations?
• Your symptoms scare you and you frequently visits to the emergency room, only to be told you are “fine”?
• You know something is “not right” and you frequently visit your medical provider, only to discover “nothing is wrong”?
If you are uncertain whether your symptoms are causing you grief , ask someone around you that will give you an honest answer. My experience is that those that are caught in the worry trap, are aware that they have an anxiety problem, just uncertain if the problem is “bad” enough to do something about it.
Anxiety begins in the mind and leaches out into a physical response.
My experience is that when anxious thoughts are believed to be controlled without an outward physical response, folks are less likely to seek help. It is when the anxious thoughts manifest themselves in an obvious or physical response then folks begin to isolate themselves. It is in this context that many seek professional assistance.
The connection between anxious thoughts and a physical response is typically not made until the moment when the mental health expert helps you connect the dots. Those with constant worry or anxiety are so accustomed to their thoughts, they are usually the last to see the physical toll that anxiety is causing them and their families.
Physical Responses to Anxiety and Panic
Here is a list of physical responses that are caused by the anxious thoughts:
Pounding heartbeat, or palpitations.
Excessive amounts of sweating.
The extreme urgency to urinate.
Feelings of choking; unable to get your breath.
You feel nauseous and might even vomit.
Feeling very hot, or flushed. Commonly your head.
Feelings of tingling or numbness in the hands and/or feet.
Feeling like you are going to die.
A sense of urgency to seek help.
Some people become frozen, unable to make a decision.
So, if this is you…let me alleviate some of your anxiety by helping you understand why you are experiencing those physical symptoms associated with your anxiety/worry.
Anxiety is a natural response to a perceived fear
Anxiety has been responsible for keeping the human species alive.
Our ancestors relied on their anxiety to react to the dangers of life. Anxiety kept the caveman one step ahead of the sabertooth tiger. The problem today is, there is no sabertooth tiger! If left on its own, anxiety can quickly spiral out-of-control.
When you are experiencing all those physical symptoms as discussed above, it is your body’s normal response in getting you ready to fight or flee from the danger. It is called your “fight or flight” response.
Your heart beats faster, sending much-needed blood supply to your muscles. Blood in your gut is also diverted to your extermines in order to get ready to respond to the danger. This derivation of the blood supply causes symptoms such as: a sudden need to urinate; nausea; vomiting; flushed skin; and a warm sensation that typically begins at your head and travels toward your legs. All of this extra blood in the extremities can cause excessive sweating. Then tunnel vision begins as your eyes attempt to focus on the danger.
Truly, there is a reason why your anxiety is causing all these responses.
Understanding the rationale behind your physical responses to anxiety and panic is the first major step in gaining control.
Many of the above physical symptoms are similar to medical emergencies.
Is it a Anxiety/Panic Attack or a Medical Emergency?
How do you know if what you are experiencing is an medical emergency?
That is a good question.
And to tell you the truth, they feel the same to the person experiencing these symptoms. The bottom line is that anxiety and panic attacks pass, they typically last 5-10 minutes and then they are over. It is impossible for your body to continue in this physical response for more than a few minutes. But when it is you, it is really difficult to not get worried and think you are having a heart attack. So many folks head to the emergency room and get evaluated.
So how can you know if it is anxiety or a heart attack, without going to the ER for further evaluation?
The answer is simple, but the execution can be most challenging.
Learn to relax.
This means on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day, practice meditation.
I would recommend if this is a new concept or suggestion to you, you should check out the app Headspace (I have no affiliation with Head Space, I just like it and use it regularly).
Think of daily or twice daily mediation as your DIY treatment for anxiety.
Would you take a medication twice a day if it would help reduce the symptoms of the anxiety?
If your answer is yes, then before you invite a chemical substance into your body with all the anticipated side effects such as weight gain and decreased libido… why not try a method you have control over?
Some people need medication to help control their anxiety symptoms. I prescribe medications and understand the usefulness of them, so do not think I am against medication.
But it would be foolish of you to think medications are without side effects. Also, long-term medications do not start working right away. They may take around 4-6 weeks before they start to work.
If you spent that same amount of time practicing healthy habits, such as mediation, good nutrition and reducing your stress, then I would venture to say you will have a similar response to those who took medications without making any lifestyle changes.
The difference is that YOU are not experiencing the potential addictions, side effects and other woes which long-term medications can cause.
It really is all about having a discussion with your healthcare provider to know the risks and benefits of taking medication versus not taking medication.
So, what do you do in the meantime while establishing this daily or twice a day practice of meditation?
• Journal your experiences, keep a record of your thoughts, responses and daily meditation practice
What should I do when I have a panic attack?
Once the physical symptoms begin, do the following:
• Immediately check the time or set your timer. Write the actual time down if you can.
• Practice relaxation breathing. Take deep breaths from your nose and blow out through your mouth with pursed lips. Learn about pursed lip breathing at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pursed_lip_breathing
• If possible remove yourself from the perceived danger or situation. Some folks will head towards the bathroom while at work as a private place where they can isolate themselves. Others will go for a walk or take a break.
• Remind yourself of the truth in the manner. You are safe, you are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack, and finally, this will be over soon.
• Monitor your physical responses. Is your heartbeat still rapid? Are you still having difficulty breathing? Are you still feeling hot and sweaty?
• Within a few moments, you should begin to feel a reduction your heart rate, breathing will be more controlled and you will begin to feel “normal”.
If the symptoms continue or worsen after a few minutes, then seek medical evaluation, especially if this is a new onset problem or you have a medical condition.
Once you have been evaluated and told you are “fine”, then rest assured that this anxiety/panic can be treated with professional guidance.
Here is a list of current website resources that I have used both personally and professionally.
Apps (I have no affiliation with these sites) :
Mindfulness helps (I have no affiliation with this site):
A variety of blogs that can be found at Precision Mental Performance.
My hope is that this information has been helpful to you or someone you know. Anxiety and panic can be treated. Each of our lives should be filled with joy and countless memories of time well spent, not time spent in a mental and physical state of anxiety.