Ugh, this month has been bad. Where anxiety has been a ghostly presence in my life for quite some time, it now haunts me constantly. I have been having extreme panic attacks on an almost daily basis, complete with dizziness, shaking, and of course, racing heart. On several occasions, my heart rate has gotten up to the 180s. Until recently, the highest my heart rate would go during a panic attack was in the 170s, and this is such a terrifying new development.
The thing is that I have read in so many places that anxiety cannot kill you, but I just am not buying it. When I am having a bad panic attack, I feel that my body will give out at any second. That my heart will start racing so fast that it will stop, or I will have a massive heart attack from the tachycardia and the overall stress to my system. And then I wonder what would happen if, during a panic attack, something were to scare me further, so that my panic grew worse? Say I was having a panic attack while out walking, and a big dog were to start running towards me. If I were calm, I would be able to deal with the panic that such an event would cause, but if I were already panicking, then wouldn't this second event send my body over the edge? My heart rate would rise again, my chest would grow tighter, and I would die. Wouldn't I? Isn't there a limit to how much panic your body can take? I am also afraid that even if I have a panic attack that is not quite so bad, that it will still prove too much for my body if it goes on for a long enough time. I have had moderate attacks that have lasted an hour or more. I fear that I will soon have an attack that will not subside at all. Isn't there a limit to how long your body can withstand panic?
I am so afraid to do anything these days, for fear that I will finally have a panic attack severe enough to kill me. Some days I can barely leave the house, as it is the one place where anxiety does not rear its ugly head. I am waiting to see my doctor to discuss medication options, but until then, I feel so doomed. Even on days when I feel calmer, I think of the horrible anxiety that I have endured in the past, and am so afraid that it will return full force that I avoid any activity that may cause it to do so. I read all sorts of things about how anxiety attacks usually subside after a few minutes, how they're not that bad for you, and so on, and so on, but seriously, that is not my experience!! Sometimes my attacks are so bad that I feel that even if I called 911, I would die before the ambulance even had time to arrive. It's so hard to feel that your body is letting you down. Sigh. Sorry for the rant ...
Those things can be difficult (almost impossible) to understand.
A lot of the discomfort with anxiety (panic) is that your body is working overtime without spending the energy it produces. Your breath is deep and rapid, which means you probably inhale at least 100-150 liter/minute, where at rest you inhale maybe 10-15 liter/minute. That's the same as you inhale during heavy exercise, but during exercise you produce a similar amount of CO2, which you do not during anxiety. The result is - you drain your blood for CO2, which again is making your blood short of acid (CO2 in water creates a weak acid). This effect is causing a lot of discomfort.
Some say it helps to run a distance during a panic attack, which makes sense. Some don't, as they feel paralyzed or afraid to die. I believe most healthy people with anxiety would benefit from running, but they are afraid to do so because they think they are having a heart attack.
When your CO2 levels drop too low, the body is doing a great effort to restrict your breathing, by tightening and cramping the chest walls, which is one of the reasons for chest pain (and feeling of shortness of breath) during anxiety. The other is a general rapid increase of blood pressure, and the fact that your heart beats very hard.
Your body doesn't care if you meet an aggressive dog during an anxiety attack. It will not get any better, and it won't get any worse, as your nerves and circulation is already maximally activated. Your body is already facing the dog (it imagines so).
The tightness in your chest during a panic attack is essentially muscular (as mentioned above) and not dangerous. It's greatly different from a heart event.
So the relevant question is: Why should you die during a panic attack?
I'm reading a book on PTSD (by the way, that can happen to anyone, not just our military folks) and the underlying anxiety that comes with that has a very real affect on the body. It's not your imagination. But it does come down to talking with a professional that can help you zero in on what's triggering the anxiety and then teach you coping strategies for it.
As already mentioned panic attacks cause your body to respond as if you are being chased by a lion and your life is in danger. So those responses are very real, they are not your imagination. What is off, is the trigger for the fight or flight response. It's triggering those responses when there is no real danger. Sometimes it is a chemical inbalance in your brain and the only way you can stop them is medication (SSRIs). The only other thing you can do is learn to live with them. The only way you can do that is by convincing yourself to go with the panic attack...but to do that you have to realize they are not going to kill you and are no way life threatening. If you can manage that, you take away their teeth and they quit being the life controlling monster that they were.
I could have written your post myself some years ago. I let panic and OCD just about take over my life. Do not do that, get help now. A good therapist can help you so much. And you really could benefit by taking some meds for your anxiety. I am scared to death of new meds. But my psychiatrist told me at first to just try a small piece of pill..then if no problem take a larger piece and so on. It works for me that way. Good luck, I am so sorry you are suffering so badly.
achillea and ireneo, thanks for your advice. I really do want to talk to a psychiatrist and get to the bottom of this anxiety. I know that you're right. However, psychiatric help is super expensive where I live. Sadly, I'm just not certain that such is an option for me at this point. :( It seems that my only choice for professional help is to go to my family doctor, which doesn't cost anything. It doesn't help as much either, but it's better than nothing, I guess. I wish my country's health care system included psychiatry as well.
CFS56, thanks so much for your support. I am waiting to see my doctor to discuss medication for this awful condition. Like you, I am very afraid of the prospect of taking pills, but I love your idea of starting with a small piece of pill before going for the full dosage. I am totally going to do that. Again, I appreciate your input and understanding. It is so good to feel that I am not alone.
And is_something_wrong, thanks for your scientific and informative answer! It helps so much to understand what is going on in my body when I am panicking, so that I can learn how to deal with it. There is no greater fear than fear of the unknown, so the more I know, the less the fear. One thing that surprises me about your answer is the idea that when I am panicking my nerves are 'maximally activated.' I think that what you're saying is that there is a limit to how much the body can panic, and that, contrary to what I seem to think, my panic cannot keep rising and rising until my body gives out. This sounds good, because my worst fear during a panic attack is that it will get worse. If I knew it wasn't going to get worse, I would be able to deal with it better, but I'm always afraid that the worst is yet to come. I have had this happen so many times: I will be panicking with a racing heart and fear that it will get worse, and it does: I start panicking even more, and my heart rate rises again. So, is this because I haven't yet hit my maximum panic level? How do I know when I have reached the point that things can't get any worse?
You have questions about the maximum panic level and how you will know when you've reached the point that things couldn't get any worse. Boy, is this ever the classic 'fear of the fear' in panic disorder!
However, this very question is addressed by Dr. Claire Weekes in her excellent and inexpensive paperback, 'Hope and Help For Your Nerves':
Reading this little book will give you some answers as well as some simple exercises for coping with your problem. Until you find a way to see a psychiatrist (to whom your family doctor could probably refer you).
I agree that counseling could help you immensely. Some coping skills could make all the difference. Maybe there's an agency that charges on a sliding scale, so it would be affordable? I have been where you are and still experience some anxiety about certain situations. It has been my experience that the fear fuels the panic attack and makes it worse. I am taking a beta blocker and take Xanax as needed. If you can slow down your breathing, you can slow down your thoughts. This CAN be managed. Another good book is "The Sky is Falling." It may be out of print, but you might get it at the library. Sorry, I can't recall the author.
If you are going to imagine something, try to imagine a positive outcome. Your fear of something worse happening can be addressed IF and when something worse happens. You are worrying about something that has not yet occurred. The quote that helps me is, "Let each day's evil be sufficient unto itself," in other words, don't borrow trouble -- there is enough trouble already. Just try to concentrate on getting through what is actually happening, and let the next few minutes, hours, or tomorrow take care of itself.
I hope some of this helps. I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
I experienced before,it was exhausting and terrible but it can be overcome espcially wat dr claire weekes mentioned in her books.Its still the fear of unkown that gets u goin in the panic anixety cycle,slowly see them for wat they are,they cant be any possible worse than it can be.
Let them be at its worse,as times goes by u will see u slowly lose the fear of them thus cutting them supply of fuel to keep the anxiety going and going.
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