I have been seeing more and more clients over the last few years who tell me that they have suddenly been experiencing anxiety attacks. The more I learn about their background, the more a similar pattern emerges. The fact is that most of the time the panic attacks haven’t simply occurred out of the blue, but are a result of long term stress and have been building up for months or even years before the first attack actually takes place.
So first of all, what is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety attack is an overwhelming sense of panic that can happen at any time or any place. Symptoms include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, a fear of losing control, a strong urge to escape from your current situation, a strong feeling of fear or that you are in danger, confusion and an inability to calm oneself.
After the initial panic attack, they can often reoccur without warning and if not dealt with appropriately, can lead to phobias and other anti-social behaviour as the person tries to avoid any circumstances that they feel may lead to another attack.
So how can stress cause anxiety attacks?
Well although it probably doesn’t seem like it, panic attacks are our body’s way of trying to protect itself. When we are stressed, we release a lot of hormones into our bodies that prepare us for the fight or flight response that protects us from danger. These hormones are not only responsible for providing us with energy but also prepare us psychologically to deal with circumstances we find threatening. They increase our heart rate, make us breathe more quickly, give us a heightened state of awareness and let us know that we need to escape from any impending danger. But when our lives are in danger, we only usually experience these feelings for short periods of time.
However, in the modern world, we experience stress for much longer periods of time, which means that our bodies go into an almost permanent state of stress. This heightened state therefore continues to increase over a long period of time until eventually one day it becomes uncontrollable and blows out into a full scale panic attack. The panic attack hasn’t come out of nowhere, it has just been lingering underneath the surface waiting for that final trigger to set it off.
But all is not lost! Panic attacks are a warning signal to us that it is time for change; that we must either learn to deal with stress more effectively or make some changes to our lives. With professional help it is possible to stop panic attacks permanently so never be afraid to seek assistance, never be afraid to ask for help and never see it as a sign of weakness. We are all human and we all hit brick walls now and again. They are just signs that we have taken a wrong turn and we need to look for another path to reach our goals.