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A full guide to coping with anxiety

Apr. 3, 2017
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Ah, anxiety. Just the mention of your name makes me feel a little short of breath -- and I’m not the only one. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, affecting about 40 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S. alone. Damn. We’re just a nation of worrying, panicky, stress balls. Yet for the amount of people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, not a whole lot of us know what that means or how to help someone should they get a panic attack or even how to help ourselves if we get a panic attack. Not good. I’m getting anxious just thinking about all my fellow anxious people out there not being prepared. With that in mind I have created a mini guideline that covers all the main points. 

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder is a type of mental disorder characterized by feelings of excessive anxiety, worry, and fear, to the point where they interfere with a person’s daily life. 

What are the various types of anxiety disorders?

Contrary to popular belief,  there are actual several different kinds of anxiety disorders. They include: 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive, ongoing worry and anxiety about a number of different things 

Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks: A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd.

Social Anxiety Disorder, also called social phobia, everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged by others.

Specific Phobias, or strong irrational fear reactions, work hard to avoid common places, situations, or objects even though they know there's no threat or danger. The fear may not make any sense, but they feel powerless to stop it.

What are the symptoms?

Although the symptoms vary slightly with each anxiety disorder, the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that's out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind "goes blank"
  • Worrying about excessively worrying
  • Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
  • Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Being easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Headaches

Is a panic attack different?

Yes. Panic attacks are isolated events and they are typically triggered by something. 

What does a panic attack look like?

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment

What do you do if someone is having a panic attack?

It can be really scary when someone else is having a panic attack, but the important thing to do is stay calm. They don’t need another person freaking out, they already got that covered. Instead...

Tell them to focus on their breathing.

Don’t say ‘calm down’, or ‘you’re overreacting,’ those are big no no’s. Instead, tell them to really focus on their breathing. Have them concentrate only on their breathing and before you know it they actually will be breathing normally.

Sing them a song or tell them a story.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a shitty story teller or a horrible singer, just get their mind off the fact that they are having a panic attack. It doesn’t need to be an epic, but any story or song that diverts the individual’s mind from panicking will calm them down.

Have them count or repeat a chant.

This technique once again focuses their mind on something other than their panic attack. 

What do you do if you are having a panic attack?

So you’re having a panic attack and maybe you’re alone or you can’t talk on the phone cause you can’t catch your breath. It’s definitely a bummer of a situation, but you can get through it all by yourself if you need to. Here’s how:

Breathe through your stomach, not your chest.

Many people who have an anxiety disorder tend to feel their breath in their chest when they inhale. This isn’t good; it means you aren’t getting enough oxygen in. When you breathe you need to feel it in your stomach. It can be tricky at first, but place your hand on your stomach to feel the breath throughout your whole body.

Find three permanent objects around you and focus on them.

Really focus on them. Describe them to yourself if you need to, but just keep those three things in mind and nothing else. This technique is called grounding.