The bell rings. I run.
I get to the door of my next class and stand there, arm outstretched. I pause. I try to will my arm to move but I can’t. Thoughts of doubt, fear and anger circle in my head. The longer I wait to open the door, the later I will be. My arm lunges out and I sneak into the back of the classroom with shaking legs.
I’m lucky to have been able to break the frozen stance. Most people with an anxiety disorder aren’t that lucky. Most people would have fled the scene because the anxiety would have caused a flight-or-fight response, or worse, an anxiety attack.
A flight-or-fight response is when your body experiences an overwhelming amount of stress that causes adrenaline to rush throughout your body. In that split second of feeling threatened by your outward position, you either choose to fight (walk into the classroom) or flight (run away).
Anxiety causes seemingly normal circumstances to be perceived as the end of the world. Your body goes on high alert and your heart races.
Whenever I got called on in class, I would tingle with a nervous sensation, my heart and thoughts racing for the rest of the class. It wasn’t just a moment. It lasted far longer than it should have. That’s the difference between having anxiety and being stressed. Being stressed means that you have normal fears of not paying your bills on time or getting anxious in a high-anxiety environment. Having anxiety means that simple tasks can bring upon a flight-or-fight response or cause you to experience different symptoms related to having an anxiety disorder.
A few nights later, I’m in my room and I start crying. I hug my knees to my chest and I suddenly feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m drowning in a raging storm. I rock back and forth and fail to catch my breath. I feel like I’m done. That today is the day when life finally pounds my battered body down for the last time.
I was experiencing an anxiety attack. An anxiety attack builds over a few days or a few hours. It is a response to the weight of anxiety and stressors otherwise seen as a threat to my body. Most people would classify this as a panic attack and although they are often used interchangeably, a panic attack and an anxiety attack are different. A panic attack occurs without a trigger or warning and after it’s over, the symptoms disappear.
Other examples of having anxiety range from not being able to eat in the cafeteria due to social anxiety, to avoiding certain settings because your body decides to flight instead of fight.
Mental symptoms of an anxiety disorder include: wanting to escape the situation, having racing thoughts, dissociation, over-thinking, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, heightened alertness, feelings of dread, irritability and panic.
Physical symptoms include: sweating, hot flushes, shaking, dizziness, fast heartbeat, dry mouth, trouble breathing and sickness.
Anxiety disorders affect approximately 19.1% of adults in the United States and 7% of children. There are different categories within the disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias. Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy and eliminating unneeded stress in your life.
After going to therapy for my anxiety, I have worked through how to handle it so that I can reduce the number of anxiety and/or panic attacks I experience. If these symptoms sound familiar or you think you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder, contact the Bellevue College Counseling Center to talk to a trained mental health professional.