Seven years ago, I went through a terrifying experience for the first time. Something hurtful happened to me, and I felt my breath getting lost. In a matter of seconds, I forgot how to breathe, my head got clouded with an unending buzz, and my heart began to pound. I thought the world was turning upside down, so I tried standing up, but my legs instantly turned to jelly. The next moment, I found myself on the floor, clutching my chest, trying to understand what was going on. Honestly, I thought I was going mad. I had never felt so crippled by anything in my life. That day, I survived my first anxiety attack.
Anxiety — a term so simple to people who don’t have it, but a petrifying experience for those of us who do. I don’t have the words to describe how hard it is to go through life feeling like everything is going to fall apart. I wish that back then, someone had told me how important it was to know about anxiety. It is important because once we know what it is, we can learn how to deal with it if it ever decides to visit.
So, let us start with: What is anxiety?
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress, manifesting itself in the forms of excessive worry or nervousness. It is your body’s way of alerting you to potential dangers. You probably have felt it at some point in your life, possibly during public speaking, or in an embarrassing situation, or after receiving shocking or sad news. Yes, it is normal to experience anxiety from time to time, especially in stressful situations.
But when this anxiety becomes all-consuming, excessive, and interferes with your daily life, that’s when it is an indicator of underlying mental illness. That’s when you know you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
But wait — how do you figure out what’s happening to you is anxiety?
There are certain symptoms that you can observe to understand if you are anxious. Although everyone experiences anxiety differently, there are some common signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Common signs and symptoms of anxiety
• Nervousness or restlessness
• Feelings of worry, panic or dread
• Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
• Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations
• Increased sweating
• Shivering or muscle twitching
• Sudden weakness
• Digestive issues, such as diarrhoea, constipation or gas.
• Difficulty focusing on anything other than what you’re worried about
• Racing thoughts
• Sudden irritability
• Feeling dizzy
• Frequent emotional outbursts
• A feeling of impending doom
As discussed earlier, experiencing some of these symptoms once in a while is normal. But when a lot of these symptoms suddenly hit you, leaving you paralyzed and breathless, it can be a sign of an anxiety attack.
An anxiety attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety, consisting of most of the symptoms mentioned above. It is usually triggered by a perceived threat.
By now, you must have understood how scary and crippling anxiety can be, and so we must understand where it’s coming from. What exactly is causing this anxiety? It is suggested that anxiety can be caused by a number of factors, including genetic and environmental.
Let’s see what are these Causes of anxiety:
1. Anxiety disorders: As mentioned above, anxiety when excessive and life-consuming becomes an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobic disorders etc. If you feel that your anxiety is disrupting your daily life to the point where you can’t normally function, an anxiety disorder may be causing it, at which point it would be wise to visit a mental health professional.
2. Extreme stress: Stress is the major cause of anxiety, as stated above. It can be the stress of school in the case of children, the stress in a personal relationship, stress at work, or financial stress that may be causing your anxiety.
3. Traumatic event: Your anxiety can also be linked to a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, financial loss, abuse etc.
4. Drugs: Many times, certain medications can cause anxiety in some people. Talk to your doctor if you feel that’s the case. Another common cause is the use of an illicit drug, such as cocaine.
5. Personal Triggers: These triggers can be any event, thought, experience or person from your life that particularly causes anxiety in you. Pay attention to your triggers. They can play a huge role in understanding your emotions.
Recognizing what’s causing your anxiety can be the first step towards overcoming it. We often try to jump to solutions before even understanding the problem. But we must know what we’re dealing with before we try to “deal” with it. Now that we know the several causes of anxiety, we can finally move on to how to cope with it.
How to overcome anxiety?
There is no one magic solution that will guide you to the path of an anxiety-free life. I wish there was but it is trickier than that. There are some short-term solutions and some long-term ones. We’ll go through them one by one.
Short-term remedies for anxiety: These instant solutions are usually for times when you urgently need to gather yourself and feel better from your anxiety. It can be when you’re having an anxiety attack and want instant relief. They are:
1. Breath-work: Try taking deep breaths. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and exhale at a slow rate for 8 seconds. Repeat this technique at least ten times. You will slowly find your breath back.
2. Grounding method: Anxiety attacks can make you feel like everything is falling apart. This one is a common method used to ground yourself or bring yourself back to reality in such a situation. Look around you and count 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch (and touch them), 3 things you can hear (try to distinguish the sounds), 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Focus on all the 5 senses while counting. You will find yourself getting back to reality.
3. Stretching or walking: Sometimes, when we’re feeling anxious, all our mind and body need is change. You can do that by trying a few stretching exercises. If that feels like too much work, just go for a walk. A little adrenaline in your body can do a great job of calming your anxiety down.
4. Journaling your thoughts: Our anxious, racing thoughts need an outlet. Instead of going with an unhealthy outlet like an anger outburst, why not choose a healthy one and vent out your feelings in a journal? Writing down all the undistinguished thoughts will clear your mind, and you will find yourself feeling sane in no time.
Long-term coping strategies for anxiety: These methods can help in situations where you have observed a prolonged pattern of anxiety in yourself and want to deal with it.
Identify and learn to manage your triggers: This can be a long and scary process but is one of the most important steps you can take. Your triggers, when identified, can pave the way towards understanding your emotions, insecurities and fears. This can assist you in dealing with the root of the problem itself by either solving a conflict, healing from trauma, or avoiding a toxic situation or person. This way, you improve your life in a way that you might not get triggered at all. And even if you do, you learn how to manage it through healthy coping mechanisms. The only challenge is that perfecting this process will take a lot of time, energy, and educating yourself.
Challenging your negative thoughts: Many of us with anxiety have a negative thinking pattern. This chronic overthinking often leads to being anxious for hours and days at a time. In this case, you can learn how to challenge these negative thoughts. Try to hear your inner voice every time you feel anxious. Usually, it will sound something like “This is going to go horribly” or “I am going to screw this up”. Try to challenge this self-critical voice with a compassionate one. Most times, the situation is not as bad as you’re perceiving it and identifying that can really help. Tell yourself things like “I can do this”, “This is just a negative thought, not the reality” etc. I know this step sounds difficult, but with practice and effort, it is really worth it.
Lifestyle changes: Along with working on your triggers and challenging your negative thoughts, you can also try making positive changes in your lifestyle to cope up with anxiety. Research suggests that yoga and meditation are the healthiest habits to include in your routine. If practised regularly, together they can work like magic for your anxiety. Eating a healthy balanced diet can also help. Most importantly, you must remember to not skip any meals and not have an excess of alcohol or caffeine. It is also suggested to have a proper sleep schedule where you get a sound sleep of at least 8 hours. If that is a bit difficult for you, try Chamomile Tea — a herbal tea that calms you down and might help in having a sound sleep.
Visit a mental health professional: If you feel like you are having difficulty managing your anxiety on your own, there is no shame in asking for help. You can visit a therapist and try therapy with them. In case you get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and are suggested to go on medication, don’t be scared. Share your concerns with your doctor and take the necessary drugs. They will only make you better.
Talk to your friends: There’s nothing worse than going through a mental health problem alone. Don’t shy away from talking to your friends about your anxiety struggles. It’s okay to take your time in opening up, but try not to bottle down your feelings. Oftentimes, repressed emotions are what is causing your anxiety.
Anxiety has become one of the most common mental health struggles of our times. From children to adults, everyone has been going through it. Therefore, now is the time to educate ourselves on the basics of anxiety and how to deal with the symptoms. One such learning space for teenagers is the ThatMate app — where you will find the necessary information on mental health topics. Not only that, if you feel that you’re struggling with anxiety, ThatMate has ensured that you will have easy access to counsellors through our Bolo Chat Option.
Even though it can be overwhelming trying to go through life with anxiety, the good news is — it is treatable! Even the most severe anxiety disorders can be treated. Eventually, you’ll find out the remedy that works best for you and will be able to manage it. Until then, remember to find your breath.