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The Mind of an Anxious Person

By: Kelly Tansor, Copy Editor, (ktanso2@uic.edu)

Back in December I was feeling a lot of anxiety and for a long time I could not figure out why.  My life was going pretty well at the time; I had found a new job after being laid off from my previous one, I now had internship experience under my belt, and my relationships with my friends and family could not have been better.  Also, it was winter break, so it’s not like I had any schoolwork to worry about.

Still, I spent many days with a tightness in my chest that would not go away for hours at a time.  Sleeping was nearly out of the question. How can you expect to sleep if you are having trouble breathing?  I felt my thought process becoming more paranoid and worrisome.  I instantly recognized these feelings as symptoms of anxiety.  What made this anxiety even worse was that I could not figure out the reason I was feeling it all the time.

Here is the thing about anxious people like myself: we do not need a reason to feel anxious.  Even if we have nothing in the world to worry about, we will find something to worry about.

This does not make a whole lot of sense to most people, but when you have anxiety, that is all you know.  It doesn’t seem normal to not feel anxious.  It’s weird, like something doesn’t feel right.  That’s when the paranoia kicks in.  You start to think that maybe something bad will happen and that this is just the calm before the storm.  Things seem okay now because something bad is going to happen and give me anxiety, so I might as well prepare myself for it now.

For those of you who do not experience anxiety like this, let me paint a picture for you:

Trigger warning: If you have an anxiety disorder or just a great sense of empathy, you may not want to read this.

It starts with a tightness in your chest, almost like your lungs are being strangled.  It’s almost like a drowning feeling.  You start to wonder why you’re feeling like this.  “Am I hurt?” you wonder.  “Do I need to go to the hospital?  Am I going crazy?  Why is this happening?”  The more you start to panic, the tighter your chest feels.  You try to breathe, but no oxygen seems to be reaching your lungs (I will explain this soon, just bear with me).

Suddenly the problem that triggered this anxiety is no longer on your mind – now you’re just worried about why you can’t breathe.  If you’ve experienced this before, you know that you are experiencing anxiety or even an anxiety attack.  This is when most people start to panic.  “Oh, my God, I’m having a panic attack, I’m going to pass out, everyone will think I’m crazy.”  This is when anxiety becomes a vicious cycle: you become anxious about being anxious.  You have anxiety about having anxiety.

This becomes more serious when the anxiety turns into a full-blown attack.  Generally, an anxiety attack is characterized by an increased heart rate, shortness of breathing, loss of feeling in your limbs, dizziness, change in body temperature, difficulty standing or sitting still, and a panicked train of thought.

I would not wish anxiety on my worst enemy (which says something because I’m a pretty angry person).  There are a few ways you can cope with this, though.  First, it helps to understand what anxiety is and what is happening to your body.

Anxiety, depending on your definition, is essentially fear of the unknown.  That is why we most often feel anxious about events that have not even happened yet – a test, a new class, meeting a new person, having an inevitable conversation with a close friend you have been having problems with, etc.  Anxiety is how we respond to stress – does the fight-or-flight response ring a bell?  We know something stressful is happening, so we prepare our bodies for battle, releasing a lot of adrenaline in our bodies. This is why anxious people may feel jittery and dizzy – it’s the adrenaline!

Remember how I said you may feel like no oxygen is reaching your lungs?  If you take anything away from this article please let it be this: When you are having a panic attack, your body has a low threshold for detecting carbon dioxide in the blood, making you feel as if you do not have enough oxygen.  When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  Of course, when you are panicking, you do a lot of inhaling but not a lot of exhaling.  So what you experience as you hyperventilate is not a lack of oxygen – there is just too much carbon dioxide.  If you keep that in mind when experiencing intense anxiety, it may keep you from crossing that line into experiencing a panic attack.  I know it has for me on a few occasions.

Meditation and breathing exercises are a huge help, and I will provide links for helpful tips on these below.  Some people use a paper bag, but considering how you may already feel panicky about your difficulty breathing, I do not recommend breathing into a bag – it may make things worse.

There are also a few things to keep in mind while you experience anxiety in order to help you cope: No problem lasts forever, you are stronger than you think, you have gone through rough times before and this is no different, you are going to get through this, stay in the present and focus on your breathing, etc.

Last but not least, if you honestly feel like you cannot handle this on your own, PLEASE TELL SOMEONE!  Do not be afraid to admit that you need help.  This is something that took me a long time to learn; I tend to deal with most problems on my own and refuse to turn to others when I feel weak or helpless.  But if you reach out to someone for help – whether it be a friend, a family member, a counselor, etc. – you will feel a lot better knowing that someone out there cares for you enough to help you through whatever you are facing.  It’s important to remember that you are never alone and you are much stronger than you think you are.

HOW TO HELP SOMEONE DEALING WITH A PANIC ATTACK

http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/helping-someone-during-a-panic-attack-topic-overview

BREATHING EXERCISES

http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/treatment/breathing-exercises

http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/08/6-breathing-exercises-to-relax-in-10-minutes-or-less/

HOW TO MEDITATE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0rSmxsVHPE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG0hdGE10vM

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1 Comment

  1. david tansor says:

    That was a very good article. Lots of good advice.

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