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Anxiety And Panic Attacks- Their Causes, Differences and How To Deal With Them

May 20, 2019 in Happiness, Anxiety and Depression, The Tough Stuff - 8 min read
Disclaimer: I am not a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or licenced NLP. This blog post is from personal experience and I share it to show that you aren’t alone but you can conquer it. If your anxiety and panic attacks have been consuming your life for some time now, it would be best to seek professional help as soon as possible and not prolong it so you can get back to growing to your full potential. I wish you the best on your journey.
I know the feeling. Just reading this headline might have been a trigger for you. I completely get it.
In my opinion, the hardest part about anxiety is that you don’t feel in control and you feel it coming and it’s everywhere. If you aren’t aware of what triggers your anxiety, it can come at any time and any place. You know it shouldn’t be like this but you don’t know how to stop it so you just surrender and before you know it, it engulfs you and you’re in a full blown anxiety attack.

Everything started to go in slow motion. I felt hot and disoriented. It stopped me in my tracks. I had no choice but to hold onto the closest thing to brace myself for the impact.

I remember the anxiety attack that pushed me to get help. I was a junior in college and rushing to the dining hall to grab a quick snack before running off to class. I was already running late but knew I needed to eat before I buckled down into my busy schedule ahead when I felt this slow but aggressive feeling coming up around me. Everything started to go in slow motion. I felt hot and disoriented. It stopped me in my tracks. I had no choice but to hold onto the closest thing to brace myself for the impact. I tried focusing on my breathing but that didn’t help so I started to panic more. I closed my eyes and thankfully that helped. I started to talk to myself out loud and in my mind to help center myself. Slowly I began to feel better and was able to focus more on my breathing. After what felt like forever, I was finally getting back to “normal” but this helped me realize that this isn’t normal. At the time I was very unstable- having highs with sharp and very low lows. I would randomly breakdown into tears no matter where I was and struggled a lot with what I was doing in life. After opening up to my friend about it, she encouraged me to go to our school’s counseling center to get help. That was the best decision I made. I continued to see my therapist for the rest of the semester and into my senior year.
Sound familiar ? Anxiety is more common than you think. According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)*, 18.1% of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults) between the ages of 18 to 54 experience anxiety. On top of that, women are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder more (23.4%) than men (14.3%).

I was just enjoying her company and shopping but in an instant, I felt this uneasy feeling and her voice sounded so far away. I felt hot and got that “fight-or-flight” response. I didn’t know what to do or how to express that to her so I choose flight and literally ran away while she was mid-sentence.

But what’s is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack ?
The two are often used interchangeably but there is a clear distinction between them. According to the Very Well Mind website**, professionals use the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition,” known as the DSM-5 to diagnose mental health conditions. In short, anxiety attacks usually have a trigger based on a worry or feeling of danger and the intensity increases exponentially over time while panic attacks are more sudden without an obvious, immediate trigger and last within 10 minutes.
One of my worst panic attacks was at the shopping mall with my friend (the same one from the previous story). We were talking about something when I started to get the sensation again. It was funny (but not really) because I didn’t feel any stress at the time. I was just enjoying her company and shopping but in an instant, I felt this uneasy feeling and her voice sounded so far away. I felt hot and got that “fight-or-flight” response. I didn’t know what to do or how to express that to her so I choose flight and literally ran away while she was mid-sentence. I felt bad about it but luckily she was understanding and gave me the space I need until I felt better again. I started crying. I felt embarrassed because I didn’t feel in control of my own body. I wondered if people saw what just happened and how crazy they thought I was running and crying.
According to Harvard Medical School**,
“The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers.”

My mind is always going. I’m always thinking about what I’m doing right now, what to do next and even how to fix the past. I am always living in fast motion living in the past, present and future and that is extremely unhealthy but I also know that I am a work in progress and complete at the same time so I breathe and try my best everyday.

This all starts in the brain when your eyes, ears or both encounter something that makes them feel stressed. They then tell your amygdala, “an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing.” After the amygdala processes your surroundings, it decides if you are in danger or not. If it feels the latter, it then alerts the hypothalamus. Being the middleman command center between your nervous system and body, the hypothalamus gives your body the energy it needs for that “fight-or-flight” moment.
When it comes to anxiety attacks, it takes time to really figure out what the tigger is and everyone is different. Through therapy and some self reflection, I found out that mine was a combination of my childhood and putting unrealistic pressure on myself without even knowing it and it slowly started to add up. My mind is always going. I’m always thinking about what I’m doing right now, what to do next and even how to fix the past. I am always living in fast motion living in the past, present and future and that is extremely unhealthy but I also know that I am a work in progress and complete at the same time so I breathe and try my best everyday.

On top of living in a negative environment, I digested everyone else’s problems and just felt trapped with no escape in sight. That’s the worst. When you don’t even feel at home at home. I even started to accept that having 3-5 attacks a day was my new normal.

Especially in college when I was doubting my major, struggling in classes, wasting time with fuckboys, and on the executive board of two student organizations, it was only so long until I reached my breaking point. Then when I returned home from college, I felt even more pressure to secure a job in my field. When I did, I felt such relief but soon found out that it wasn’t what I expected. It left me feeling unfulfilled and out of place so I quit. I knew it was the right decision at the time but it was a hard one to make and I went unemployed for over two months losing more and more hope as the days went by. On top of living in a negative environment, I digested everyone else’s problems and just felt trapped with no escape in sight. That’s the worst. When you don’t even feel at home at home. I even started to accept that having 3-5 attacks a day was my new normal. After breaking down to my mother, she helped me find a therapist at home who I continued to see for about a year.

It’s so easy to brush it off and accept it as your new normal when that’s not how anyone should intend to live their life. Talk to someone who you trust about how you’re really feeling. Like really feeling. Don’t hold back.

I’ve learned that the cliche “take it one step at a time” reigns true. You have to live in the present. Like fully live in it. Enjoy it. Embrace it because life is too short. You can also say “Exactly. Life is too short so I have to make the most out of it! I have to do it all!” when actuality you doing that can be counterproductive if you try to do or think of too many things at once. That’s why I am always preaching about setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals and having routines in my Organize Your Life Template. It is crucial to plan ahead and know when to stop. The key is to plan smart by making goals that are specific, measurable, attainable in your current situation, relevant and timely (see what I did there?). It’s the only way that has helped me. I’ve always been an analytical person. I thrive off of organization. It gives me a peace of mind because I have clear direction of what I need to do now to be the most productive. As a result, I feel in control and when I’m in control and in peace, I can conquer anything.
Click here for some quick and effective ways to deal with an attack when you feel it coming on.

I want better for you because you deserve to be at your best. All the time. You deserve to be happy and not weighed down by the burdens of your past, present or future.

Like I mentioned in my disclaimer, if you feel like anxiety and/or panic attacks are have more control over your life than you do, it’s hard and most of the time unsuccessful to take matters into your own hands. It’s so easy to brush it off and accept it as your new normal when that’s not how anyone should intend to live their life. Talk to someone who you trust about how you’re really feeling. Like really feeling. Don’t hold back.
If you feel like you don’t have that someone, get a professional. I liked going to my therapist more than talking to friends or family because my therapist didn’t know me personally which is an advantage. She got to give me a new perspective on every situation that pushed me to look at things differently and understand why I think and feel why I do. Some days I would spend the entire session bawling my eyes out wishing I did something earlier. I want better for you because you deserve to be at your best. All the time. You deserve to be happy and not weighed down by the burdens of your past, present or future. Wishing you the best in your journey. You aren’t alone and you will get through it.
With love,
Shantel
*NIMH (2017). Any Anxiety Disorder.
**Harvard Medical School. Understanding The Stress Response.

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About Me

About Me

Hi Empress! I show women the endless opportunities to be themselves by empowering them to embrace and grow from their shared experiences through vulnerability and community. I help you accept that you'll always be a work in progress and complete at the same time so you can take back power over your life and reach your full potential!

Shantel

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