Adjusting our understanding of anxiety

Anxiety is terrorizing and impacts every part of a person’s entire being, robbing them of hope and fosters a general sense of rot and ruin. Anxiety makes everything good feel tenuous and fragile, while making everything bad feel magnified and permanent. Intense anxiety attacks start at the top of the head and flow through the entire body down to the toes, making the sufferer hyper aware of their physical self. An acute anxiety attack feels like dying as the body is rocked by waves of nausea, dizziness, and a general sense that at any moment your entire being will disintegrate or fly apart. The hyper awareness of self feels like knowing how loosely the molecules are attached – that all it would take is a good strong wind to blow them apart.

An acute anxiety attack makes everything blurred at the edges and can impact sight. It also makes breathing difficult, as if there are moist sandbags on the chest and back. Intense anxiety attacks cause hearing to be distorted, and the mind starts to believe it can hear snippets of conversation, which may provide proof that people are laughing and talking about the sufferer. During the duration of the attack, there is a fuzzy buzzing sensation that covers the inside of the skull and is accompanied by the sensation of a metal band or vice tightening around the head, causing the most terrible migraine. During an acute anxiety attack, the very fiber of the being screams that this is the end, this is too much, and utter obliteration is imminent. The feeling becomes “Obliteration is a fact and it’s coming.” It’s terrifying.

Then, it’s gone without warning. The storm has passed, but in its wake there is panic. “What did I do during the anxiety attack?” “What did I say?” “Did anyone notice that I was completely hysterical?” “Did I do or say something that will shatter my world?” “Is my life ruined? Did I blow it all?” After the panic subsides, sorrow comes in, along with the realization of utter aloneness because there was no one to turn to during the attack and the aftermath of the attack for help and support. The sufferer feels utterly isolated and adrift. Part of them is glad that no one knows about the anxiety, but another part craves understanding and the ability to connect with another person that will get how bad anxiety is. The desire to have one person understand that having an anxiety disorder doesn’t impact the ability to be competent. One person who will not fear or judge but, rather, will offer patient and measured support while the attack cycles, even if it takes days to do so.

This is the reality of life with chronic anxiety. People coping with anxiety issues should not be stigmatized or thought of as being dramatic. If you know someone who has an anxiety issue, be there for them. Listen to them. Let them recount events as many times as they need to. Pay attention each time. Reassure them that they have a right to feel the way they do. Most of all, provide a judgment free space for them to unload and process. Stay calm. Be reassuring. Be patient. Be kind.

Posted on 07 Jun 2015 04:40

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