I wrote this feature article about anxiety a few months after I wrote the poem 12:15 am for a journalism feature writing class that I was taking. I like the look and feel of the piece because I worked on writing objectively about a subject that I suffer from. Anxiety has been so much a part of my life over the last ten years and even more so 2017. I will write more personal pieces on anxiety over my time with this blog as I suffer from social anxiety. I am by no means an expert in the field.
Anxiety – A Day in a Life
It’s 12:15 am. Regret takes him over. His thoughts race as he thinks, “I’ve been here before.” Panic rises in his body. His breathing becomes shallow and fast. Unease and restlessness consume him. Tingly numbness overtakes his hands. Hyperventilating—he loses complete control. A small white pill becomes his salvation. The anxiety fades. It’s over for now.
A panic attack caused by severe anxiety can have these types of symptoms. The truth—many Americans suffer from a form of anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, and it affects 40 million adults or 18% percent of the population.
Two types of anxiety are most often diagnosed by professionals. Anxiety about a future outcome like a presentation at work is known as generalized anxiety. A sufferer of social anxiety has intense anxiety about social situations that can keep them from leaving their homes. Anxiety can be controlled under the right circumstances, but often anxiety can lead to a panic attack.
A person with social anxiety may overthink a social situation like going for a cup of coffee with friends. Thoughts of “worst case scenario” outcomes can consume the sufferer once they are ready to leave their house. A range of emotions overcome the sufferer like sadness, restlessness, or frustration. A response for a social anxiety sufferer is to make plans and then cancel last minute. These canceled plans often lead the suffer to depression.
In a single day, a person that suffers from severe anxiety can have several panic attacks. A range of thoughts can cross his mind. He may think, “I can’t be going through this again.” Panic attacks are powerful and can lead to hyperventilating, dizziness, and sweaty palms. A common thought for a sufferer is, “am I having a heart attack?” When having a panic attack in public he may think while looking around, “are these people judging me?” A common thought can be, “why can’t I just be a normal person like everyone else?” The most devastating thought is, “this panic attack is going to kill me.” After the panic attack subsides, these thoughts can seem irrational to the sufferer, but in the moment, a panic attack can feel like an eternity.
Professionals in the field of psychology treat anxiety with medication. Ativan is one commonly prescribed anxiety medication, and it is a small round white pill. The effects of taking Ativan is fast acting, and during a panic attack, it can help calm the sufferer down. Ativan is can also be prescribed to keep anxiety under control. The interesting thing about Ativan is that it’s a controlled substance, so doctors have cracked down over the last few years on how much they prescribe to a patient. The addictive quality of Ativan makes for a catch-22 for its users. With less Ativan, a user may have to go without it for a panic attack simply because they have no use extra, but at the same time, doctors are lowering the amount given each month.
For those not seeking professional help, there are different techniques that can help keep anxiety under control. Focusing on your breath is a technique can help during a panic attack. The sufferer sits upright in a chair, and takes a long slow breath through their lungs, and holds their breath for three seconds. Next, you release your breath through your mouth and repeat. Calm breathing helps the sufferer regain their body and mind. Meditation, and journaling your anxiety thoughts can also help.
It is impossible to eliminate all uncomfortable emotions that come with anxiety, but one useful treatment option is Cognitive Behavior Therapy. When asked, a local therapist with the Adult System of Care had this to say about CBT, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the practice of changing how we think, so that we can change our feeling and behaviors associated with anxiety.” CBT, like anxiety is complex, and the treatment is often done with a professional over the course of months. There are also many books that are available on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for those that want to venture out on their own.
Getting help with anxiety is important to your mental health. A combination that works best is therapy, medication, and alternative things like medication. Anxiety is typically a lifelong struggle, but control is possible for the sufferer. Anxiety happens different in each of us. The best advice? Find what makes your anxiety unique to you—and conquer it.
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt