Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety is both a physiological and psychological experience, and is triggered by a threat stimulus. It has a protective mechanism, because it primes the body to deal with the perceived threat or danger. A panic attack occurs when the anxiety response gets out of hand and is out of proportion to the threat. In today’s life, anxiety and panic attacks are generally not helpful or desirable.
Each of us perceives danger in different ways and what may feel threatening to one person will not necessarily feel like dangerous to another. Past experiences, beliefs and personal attitudes shape our psychological state and how vulnerable we feel in different situations. Situations which often cause anxiety include coping with work deadlines, performing in front of an audience, and starting a new job. Some level of anxiety can be helpful, for example it can help you focus on getting the work done and you may notice that your productivity increase closer the closer you get to a deadline. However, if anxiety is too much and cascades into a full blown panic attack, this can be debilitating and counter-productive. Anxiety can also be a serious problem if it is chronic.
Anxiety is not just in the mind. When we are feeling anxious, the body secretes hormones such as adrenaline which bring about physiological changes such as an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and the shifting of blood from ‘non-essential’ organs (such as the digestive system) to the heart and skeletal muscles. Psychologically, anxiety causes us to feel nervous, afraid and can sometimes give rise to negative thoughts (I won’t be able to meet the deadline) which can in turn increase anxiety levels to the point of causing a panic attack.
Panic attacks can cause you to totally lose control of your actions, feel helpless and can trigger other conditions such as an asthma attack. Panic attacks can be very frightening and because of this they tend to self-propagate. It is therefore important that if you experience a panic attack, you need to remember that the attack will end, and that the less you worry about it, the faster it will be over.
If you suffer from frequent panic attacks or chronic anxiety, you should try to get help as anxiety and panic attacks can impair your life. Talking about your anxiety can be very helpful, and a trained counsellor/psychologist can guide you on how to control your fears. You can also help yourself, for example, by avoiding stressful situations and changing your lifestyle if this is proving to be too stressful. Avoid negative persons and those who make you feel anxious or angry. Stop being hard on yourself – some people judge themselves too harshly and concentrate too much on the negative aspects of their life. Try to live more in the moment and don’t worry unnecessarily about the future. Try to do more of the things and activities you like, especially relaxing activities such as going for a walk in the park or near the beach. Exercise can be very helpful for dealing with anxiety and panic attacks as it makes the body release hormones (endorphins) which make us feel good about ourselves and help us to relax.