As of last night, I have had exactly two panic attacks in my life. The first one displayed the normal symptoms: shortness of breath, a racing heart and feeling faint. Yesterday’s attack was much more serious. I woke up with this overwhelming sense of dread that failed to leave my stomach for the rest of the day; I felt tired as classes seemed to drag on, I had trouble keeping my breathing slow, and my chest felt sore. I had never felt more out of control in my life.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults (or 18% of the population). The sad part about this is that while it is highly treatable, only about one-third of those afflicted actually seek out treatment. People with anxiety disorders are three-to-five times more likely to go without seeing a doctor and six times as likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric purposes. Disorders depend on a flurry of characteristics, including (but not limited to) genetic makeup, personal traits, brain chemistry and traumatic events.
The point I’m trying to make is that I, like many, felt uncomfortable about the idea of seeing someone about my anxiety. I felt that I had no reason to feel worried or nervous; I knew other people in my life that had much more going on and seemed to deal with it much easier than I did. This attitude is what led to me lying on the floor of my girlfriend’s apartment. Luckily for me, she was there to calm me down and listen as I tried to explain what was happening until I felt safer and more comfortable. This is the first of many steps you can take to halt a panic attack.
Oftentimes, it can feel like the world is closing around you. With finals week on its way, I think it is especially important to remind each other than Gannon does offer a counseling service; in fact, it is completely free (located down the stairwell to the right of Harborview). If you just need some time to get away, the counseling center also has a relaxation room that is free to use without appointment (provided another student isn’t already using it). The relaxation room includes soothing sounds and music, positive quotes, pleasant aromas you can hand pick and much more. Some may consider taking their anxiety or depression to a medical professional, who can help you decide whether or not medication may be the right option for you.
For others, there are several very simple steps you can take to calm yourself in the midst of anxiety. I would again attempt to be with someone you trust and who cares about you, or to at least put yourself in the most comfortable position/environment. Try not to focus on every racing thought; some professionals find it helps to describe these thoughts as a mere symptom of a panic attack, like that of a cold. Speaking of cold, some people choose to hold ice cubes in their hands in order to distract and focus their minds on something other than the panic.
If they happen often, remember how to recognize a panic attack and try to keep yourself grounded by doing something tangible (fumbling with keys, squeezing a pillow, etc.) and once you feel comfortable with that, try performing larger tasks that call for your attention. Most importantly, remember to always practice deep breathing. It’s the simplest and most common method to begin letting you down from the grips of panic.
Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. Having a panic attack once or twice does not mean you have a disorder, or need medical assistance, but having them on a regular basis may require more attention. The most important thing to take from this article is that those with anxiety, depression or any number of mental health disorders are not alone; the numbers speak for themselves, but it is up to us to change the statistics by seeking help. You are the strongest defense against yourself; fortify yourself, reach out and do what it takes to take charge of your anxieties.