A final word about anxiety that might help you: It is not possible to see the positive while in the midst of feeling anxiety. Anxiety isn’t looking for good things, it is looking for threats – so it ignores anything good or nice.
Can you imagine looking into a dark alley, heart racing, palms sweating, thinking “ok, I don’t like that shadow by that dumpster, and that doorway is awfully dark, and, wow, those are some really pretty petunias on that windowsill!”
Not going to happen. Anxiety filters out positives and only looks at potential negatives… like gold dust panning for threats.
A word on anxiety attacks:
What we call anxiety attacks, or “panic” attacks are nothing more than what we SHOULD experience in a situation in which danger is imminent. I feel like I heard someone talk about this years ago, or I read it, but I cannot remember who it was. If anyone recognizes this, please let me know… or maybe I came up with it, but that seems rather unlikely.
Picture: Cavewoman Human walking across an open field between caves. When she is still 200 yards from any caves, she spots a sabre-tooth tiger 100 yards away. In one hand, she carries a baby wrapped in a bundle; in the other, a crude spear.
What will she need to survive (physiologically)?
From a muscles perspective, strength and speed are spelled OXYGEN.
So, the chemical adrenaline tells the body to start the stage one symptoms of an anxiety attack: short, fast breaths; racing and pounding heart. These are the majors. Many people report a couple of minors: moist hands and sensitive feet.
The hyper-ventilation and increased blood pressure and heart rate are obviously the body’s way of getting Oxygen out to the limbs as quickly and consistently as possible! After all, cavewoman is about to run or fight and she needs strong limbs.
The minor symptoms are advantageous too. Human skin grips better when a little damp (ever lick a finger before turning a page?)… and the sensitive feet are less likely to trip over a little rock. Fall with a giant tiger nearby and you are dinner.
This is really the extent of the actual symptoms of a “panic” attack. The rest of the ones we complain about seem to be actually symptoms to Having a Panic Attack and Yet Not Running or Fighting.
Light headed? That is the consequence of hyperventilating! Dry mouth? That is the consequence of breathing really fast for a few minutes. Tunnel vision? (possibly this is a primary symptom that creates focus but is probably) the consequence of hyperventilating and starting to pass out. Passing out? Hyperventilating again. Headache? Pounding blood pressure.
Actually, virtually none of the symptoms happen is the person having the attack actually runs or fights! Actually the symptoms are made much worse when someone sits down and battles against the panic attack! No one ever avoided passing out just by sitting and saying to themselves “don’t pass out – don’t pass out”).
They pose little danger to us directly.
And they are vital for our survival when there is an actual threat! A knifeman, a terrorists, and rabid dog, imminent embarrassment, etc. are all threats that to deal with successfully we may need all the advantages we can.
Our ancestors needed them to face the tiger; we may need them to avoid a car accident.
However, what often happens to people is that they begin to fear anxiety attacks themselves. Soon the potential of the anxiety attack becomes the main source of anxiety!
Soon life-threatening phobias, like agoraphobia, begin to set in. The person doesn’t leave the house because if they leave, they might have an anxiety attack in public.
The fear of fear binds them.
The best way to deal with anxiety attacks?
First, look around and see if there is a tiger! If there is a threat – please have the anxiety! If not, the anxiety may fade just because you took a second to look. If not, move to 2.
Second, if there isn’t an obvious threat, examine for a second whether there is some kind of trigger that may be more subtle (did you catch a whiff of gas? Was there a baby crying or dog barking somewhere?) or personal (did you see a large sculpture of a lion out of the corner of your eye and when you were a child you saw a zookeeper attacked by a lion?). If either of these, take a moment and examine them more in depth. Is a response needed? If not, then move to 3…
Third, if you cannot spot any threat that is imminent, but the feelings still haven’t faded, move. Obviously, if you decide to run screaming and flailing, the anxiety will burn out in moments. However, that really isn’t an option in most places. If you cannot run or jump or drop and do 20 pushups, etc… then walk. Try to take deep breaths rather than short ones… long, slow and deep breaths and push out your lips, like giving a kiss, while you walk. Find a cool place. Get a cold cup of water.
Fourth, if you begin to feel faint, sit or lie down immediately. Really the only way that such an attack can actually do any damage is if you do hyperventilate and pass out and hit your head. If in a car, pull over and turn off the engine.
Remember – good news – a full blown anxiety attack cannot last very long. Most are just a few minutes – and beyond 30-45 minutes really is apparently not possible.
Also, you burn a lot of calories in an anxiety attack – so they are great for the ol’ diet!
Honestly, they really are not something to be feared. Learning some relaxation techniques and some counseling to find the perceived threat can really help a lot!
Also, in the case of serious ongoing anxiety, a medical doctor has many anti-anxiety medications that can help our bodies re-set to normal levels of anxiety for most of us. Don’t hesitate to get that help you need!