How I Overcame My Anxiety and Frequent Panic Attacks
I have struggled with this affliction throughout my life. If I can help just one person out there struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, then I'd know that sharing my personal story is well worth it.
What Is a Panic Attack?
The DSM-IV describes it as "a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, which comes on suddenly and peaks within ten minutes or so."
The American Psychological Association says symptoms of panic disorder can last anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 minutes. "They can form a cyclical series of episodes that last for extended periods. Often, those afflicted will experience significant anticipatory anxiety and limited symptom attacks between situations where attacks have previously occurred."
Common Anxiety Symptoms
- intense fear or apprehension
- fear of dying
- feeling like you're "going crazy" or feeling out of control
- shortness of breath, choking feeling, or smothering sensation
- muscle pain or tension
- hot flashes/cold flashes
- chest pain or heart palpitations
- dizziness or feeling light-headed
- derealization (out of body experience)
- burning sensation/numbing sensation
- hypervigilance (being overly aware of environmental or bodily sensations)
- strong urge to escape or flee
My Experience With Anxiety
Even as a Child, I Was Always Anxious
One of my earlier recollections of anxiety was when I was about nine years old. I was laying in bed when the feeling came over me. I wanted to flee and get as far away from my body as possible. I wasn't sure why I had this feeling of dread and fear when I was just relaxing in the comfort of my own bedroom.
Another instance occurred when I was about 10 years old. I was laying on the living room couch watching TV, when without warning, I felt like I was going to die. I walked into the kitchen where my father was standing. I was sobbing and telling him about the weird symptoms I was experiencing. He wanted so much to help his little girl, but had no idea what was going on with me or what to do.
Things Got Worse in My Adolescence and Young Adulthood
This continued into college. Many times, my boyfriend would have to talk me down. He was patient and loving and learned that I regularly had these bouts of anxiety. He and my sister became very important to me when I was having a bad panic attack.
My worst run-ins with anxiety and panic attacks by far were when I was about 28 years old. At this stage, I was suffering from full-blown panic attacks. I remember working at a group home for adults with special needs when the panic attacks were at their worst. There I was, twenty-something and responsible for 8-10 adults—all the while feeling like I was falling apart.
One of my scariest incidents was when I was driving the company van with all ten residents. As the feelings of panic suddenly came over me, I thought, "Oh man, here we go again." I felt like I was suffocating, dying, going crazy. I considered pulling the van over, but I was on an interstate, where there was no place to do so. The fact that there was no way to pull to the side made me panic even more. Luckily, I managed to get everyone home safely, but I will never forget the feeling I had that day. I felt like I had run a marathon; my legs were sore and shaky following that panic attack.
For Those of You With Anxiety, There Is Hope
Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to anxiety and panic attacks. I have come a long way since the days of constant bouts of anxiety. Below, I've listed several tips that have helped me reduce my anxiety. You can still live a good life in spite of panic and anxiety.
Have you ever suffered from extreme anxiety or a panic attack?
My Suggestions to Reduce Anxiety
- Get back in your body: Take your shoes off when having feelings of panic or anxiety and rub them into the ground.
- Self-care: Make time to take care of yourself. Get a massage, meditate, get enough sleep, eat nutritional foods, take vitamins or supplements, take a warm bath, exercise, or just go for a nice walk—anything that's just for you and no one else.
- Avoid alcohol: You may think that alcohol can dull the senses or lift your mood, but it can actually exacerbate the anxiety.
- Get counseling: Talk to a therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety or panic disorder. It may include medication, talk therapy, bio-feedback, or another method. You can work together to find the best treatment for you.
- See your doctor: Talk to your primary doctor to discuss your symptoms. They may want to rule out any physical problems first. (Make sure to keep them in the loop if you are seeing a therapist or counselor.)
- Find loving support: Get support from friends and family you trust. Just talking about your anxiety can often alleviate the scary feelings that accompany it.
- Learn more about anxiety: Read about your condition or others' stories of anxiety. You will realize how common it is in our society. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
- Refocus your attention: Try not to give too much power to the anxiety. I know what you're thinking: "Easier said than done!" But take it from someone who has learned from experience: I just don't give anxiety the power like I used to in the earlier days. Try to focus your attention on something that gets your mind... off your mind. Do things that you love or have a passion for. I love to garden, walk, read, write, watch movies, and listen to music, to name a few things.
- Love yourself: You are not bad or damaged because you suffer from panic attacks. We are not crazy!
You Can Definitely Do It
Panic attacks can decrease in power as you develop more skills to cope with them. I have gone through several months of remission many times in my life—and whenever it does come back for a visit, I am armed with the the anxiety-reducing strategies listed above.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2010 Linda Rogers