Thwark! Bang! The first major anxiety attack hit completely without warning.
It was on a day I was relaxing at home when suddenly – my ribs were on fire, my chest was hurting and my mouth was dry. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was terrified!
What I have learned since is that anxiety happens to just about everyone. Most of us experience mild symptoms of stress and anxiety and think they’re just a normal part of life.
Stress is often experience as one or more of the following: tension in the shoulders and neck, muscle strains, headaches, forgetfulness, procrastination, PMS, irritation and insomnia.
Mild, though these symptoms are, they can fester into long-term negative consequences for our health. High blood pressure, weight gain, skin ailments and sugar addiction are all responses to stress.
Over the past 30 years there are many times when I had a fuzzy, thick brain, if not real headaches, sugar cravings and even minor chest pains at one point. I learned to live with these minor irritations. Doesn’t everyone who was striving for success while juggling a career, family and relationships go through them?
I would never have given these symptoms the label of ‘anxiety’. But I now realise this is what many of them were, particularly the fuzzy brain thing which is a strong signal that my stress hormones are rising.
At the other end of the stress response scale are disabling anxiety and panic attacks much like the one I experienced that day I was ‘hit by a truck’.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a label given to the range symptoms that severely limit normal activities. Often it describes someone plagued by constant worry, fear and dread.
However while that’s true to many, for me it’s been more about the physical symptoms.
When I was hit with anxiety I had recently emerged from a major depressive episode and was feeling quite positive about life (helped by mindfulness meditation).
Yet as it transpired, my body was way out of wack with my mental state. I was completely unaware that my body’s stress responses were in absolute overdrive. While my mind was healing, my body was doing its own thing and trying to catch up.
Not only were my anxiety attacks frightening, I knew they were shortening my life. There is a limit to the amount of stress hormones this body can handle and I have created enough cortisol over the years to run a power plant!
If you were to ask my advice, I would offer the following. Don’t ignore the minor symptoms of stress and anxiety. You are putting yourself at risk, not only of developing physical ailments but also an increased risk in the onset of major mental health event.
Research shows that it can take only one or two significant life events, (such as the death of a friend, redundancy or relationship breakup), to generate a severe state of anxiety, depression or other mental health disease.
By looking after the minor stressors, we are better equipped to handle life’s major trials.
Reach out if you need help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Being vulnerable and asking for help takes courage.
‘Kia kaha’. Stay strong. Ask for help.
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