I never really understood anxiety growing up. However, after hearing so many of my friends and colleagues talk about their own anxiety, and a recent panic attack of my own, I decided to explore the topic. The following is based on the results of my own questionnaire for which over sixty-five volunteers have helped me by sharing their own experiences with anxiety so that I might be able to make some sense of it and write on the topic. Through it, I hope to bring some semblance of relief to those who suffer from it.
After taking in sixty-five responses, I discovered that the symptoms of anxiety fall into three categories: impact, physicality, and emotional feeling. Within each category, the content grows in quantity and severity. As you read the following, please keep in mind that people experience these symptoms not only in a variety of strengths but also in varying frequencies as well.
Based on my questionnaire, the majority of people who experience these symptoms tend to go through them multiple times a day. The next largest category of people experience symptoms multiple times a month. Some people only experience them during traumatic life situations, while others live in fear because they never know when or where their anxiety is going to act up, which could ruin many aspects of their functioning lives.
Anxiety, because it stems from one's mentality, is experienced in a number of different ways. Two most common impacts of anxiety are the loss of sleep and depression. Loss of sleep can have a large impact on one’s overall health; just Google or WebMD it and see for yourself. Depression can last from minutes to years based on the person and situation and can cause life-lasting impacts if not addressed properly or in a timely manner.
Other impacts of anxiety can be frustration, irritability, anger, despair, self-loathing, sadness, and suicidal thoughts. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a list of side-effects at the end of an antidepressant commercial. The only difference is that one has the choice to take an antidepressant, but anxiety is not an elective— it is something that happens to people naturally. Just based on this small list alone, anxiety should be taken seriously and examined further.
After looking at the questionnaire responses, I noticed that many of the physical symptoms of anxiety mirror a heart attack. Mind you, these aren’t only symptoms of a panic attack, but of anxiety in every one of its fashions:
- More than a quarter of people claimed to experience a tight chest or difficulty breathing during anxiety.
- Over twenty percent experienced their hearts racing or skipping beats.
- Fourteen percent of responders claimed to feel nausea, nervous bowel movements, or other intestinal discomfort or digestive issues.
- Eleven percent of anxiety sufferers feel a discomfort, tightness, or pain over the entirety of their bodies which they cannot relieve or control.
Some less frequent responses, but also similar signs to that of a heart attack, are sweating, dizziness, feeling cold, tremors or body paralysis.
Although the physical elements can have a huge impact on the physical health of those suffering from anxiety, the emotional symptoms to me are, by far, the scariest and are likely the origin of the physical symptoms and their impacts. More than half of survey participants claimed to have the sensation that their brain was moving at a higher speed than normal or that their brain had some sort of difficulty processing their own thoughts, much like my own experience.
As a means of trying to explain what this experience feels like, people stated things like:
- Their internal energy doesn’t match their external body.
- It’s like video game music that doesn’t match what is actually happening in the game.
- Time feels different.
- They have a fast-paced nagging internal voice that they cannot silence. Some even describe this voice as being taunted by a demon. This seems to be a strong, common theme among responses and will be elaborated on in a later volume.
Nearly one-fifth of the responses I received indicated a severe sensation of self-doubt. This self-doubt is often uncontrollable and may be related to the internal voice. Such doubt seemingly stems from an extreme fear of failure, rejection and of disappointing others.
This fear makes social situations difficult if not impossible; it can also make even the simplest of tasks seem Herculean from the point of view of someone experiencing it. This fear has a means of convincing the host that whatever mistake they make will have a tremendous impact on others. The mere idea of making a small mistake while cooking, taking care of children, folding clothes, cleaning a room, organizing an event, driving, saying the right thing, or nearly any other task, could cause an anxious person to avoid doing anything out of an overpowering fear of failure. Those who experience this for some time may even develop a sense of lethargy after long periods of avoiding certain activities.
One-quarter of responses claimed that during anxiety, there are feelings of being both physically and mentally overwhelmed, and experiencing what feels like a loss of control over themselves. Imagine a similar experience when you lose control over your car. Although with anxiety, the situation is less likely fatal, especially to others, it can still be just as terrifying.
Other emotional symptoms that one may experience are a panic that they are unable to turn off, a strong sense of impending doom (like my experience of my whole world spiraling away to nothing), extreme uncontrollable pressure, or even a sense that they are trapped and the walls are closing in on them.
So, anxiety seems to have many faces of pain, affecting people in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it is small and nagging, while other times it can be a crippling menace. Can people actually get control of their own anxiety? Are there specific triggers that they can learn to identify and avoid?
“Anxiety: An Examination” continues on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018.
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