The Department for Work and Pensions tells us that Generalised Anxiety Disorder affects 2-5% of people. However it accounts for 30% of the mental health problems treated by GP’s here in the UK. In the USA, it’s even higher, at 18% of the adult population (Source: Mental Healthy). My dear friend Jenn is here again this week to talk about how anxiety and panic disorder can affect you and how to understand it if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Her explanation of how it feels is both emotive and familiar for me; so I hope it gives those with anxiety a feeling of support and those without it an understanding of how terrifying and debilitating it can be.
Note: Jenn openly writes about her Christian faith in this article
Anxiety and panic disorder is one of the top growing mental health disorders in the United States affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population! I don’t know about you, but that number shocked me! How could it be that someone else actually knew what I was going through? I always felt like I was some crazy person and that I wasn’t normal. I thought, no one must understand what this disorder feels like and I am completely alone in this. If you had these thoughts like me, I am here to tell you that you are completely normal and that you are definitely NOT alone! I, and so many others, are here for you. Most importantly, all you need is a little faith.
One of the main reasons I started blogging is because of what I went through with my anxiety and panic disorder. It was the worst period in my life and it consumed me every second of every day. I have always been a worrier and a little anxious, but it was nothing that interfered in my life in a big way. It wasn’t until I hit those early adult years that my anxiety started to increase. It eventually spiralled into a panic disorder and became a daily struggle. You can read more about my story and how I overcame it here.
Anxiety is actually a normal reaction and can be healthy in a stressful situation. Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their life. Maybe it is during an important exam, right before your big interview, or being placed in an uncomfortable social situation. Your hands get sweaty, your heart beats a little faster, and you start to feel dizzy. Maybe you even start to feel shaky and can’t sit still. These are all normal responses to anxiety and are your body’s natural response to the situation ahead.
Now imagine these symptoms on steroids.
On top of an increasing pulse, your heart feels like it is skipping beats and your chest hurts. Your hands not only feel sweaty, but they are tingling and going numb. You feel as though you are being smothered, you can’t breathe, and you start to feel detached from your body. The panic sets in and you feel helpless and out of control.
This is what it feels like when you have anxiety and panic disorder. If this doesn’t help you understand what a panic attack feels like, imagine you are drowning. You are sinking deeper and reaching towards the surface with nothing to grab on to. You are feeling the panic of truly believing you are going to die and have no control. I have experienced every one of these symptoms and it is a feeling I will move mountains to avoid. It is a very real feeling, and I was surprised by the number of people (even people I know!) who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders.
If you don’t have an anxiety or panic disorder, but you know someone who does, please understand that this isn’t something they can just turn off. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Your body releases adrenaline, and the body’s “fight or flight” response is inappropriately triggered. The body’s reaction to the situation is out of proportion to the actual threat or lack thereof. Your body and brain literally believe that there is an extreme threat and so the panic attack sets in. Believe me, those with anxiety and panic disorder would love nothing more than to just turn an off switch and make it all stop.
Living with anxiety and panic disorder is hard and you never know what each day is going to bring. It’s like you are afraid to go to sleep because you might not wake back up, and you are afraid to wake up because you know you will have to live through the fear and the pain. Luckily for me, I was able to overcome this disorder and I now live with no panic attacks and very little anxiety. Not everyone is this lucky and still suffers this mental disorder each and every day. The good news is there is always help and steps you can take to overcome this disorder.
This may sound strange, but I am so happy this happened to me. Had it not, the birds singing wouldn’t sound so beautiful, a hug goodbye wouldn’t mean so much, and waking up each morning wouldn’t feel like such a blessing. All the things I took for granted before suddenly mean so much, and precious moments don’t just pass me by anymore. I see each moment as a gift and am over overwhelmed by how having such a grateful heart has turned me into such a happy person. My heart is so full and I am free.
Some may say that God put me through this to teach me a lesson. That there is a reason for everything and that He had a purpose for this in my life. I don’t look at it that way. I believe the devil put me through this. I believe God is not the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. No, I believe that God took something so dark, so evil, and so suffocating and turned it into something a million times more beautiful than it was before. I believe that God doesn’t cause hurt; He takes hurt away and blesses you with ten times the happiness. My life and my story is proof of this.
My hope is that what you take away from this is that there is always hope no matter what you may be going through. You are never alone and there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow. Never give up! Whether it is anxiety, panic, depression, or another mental health issue, there is always hope. For those who don’t suffer a mental health disorder, I hope you find compassion for those that do. Be patient, be kind, and be supportive. Nothing is more precious to someone with anxiety and panic disorder than to know they are not alone and that they are loved.
Be brave. Have faith. You are not alone. You deserve to live a happy, healthy, anxiety-free life!
You can find more of Jenn’s brilliant writing here. We’d both love to hear your story too. Has Jenn described the way you experience your symptoms?