While anxiety is a necessity for people to some extent, heightened anxious systems cause physical damage and impact life choices, making it important that they don’t go untreated. The problem is, is that symptoms associated with anxiety attacks can be subtle, making them difficult to recognize and causing them to go untreated for years.
Recognizing An Anxiety Attack
The existence and physical responses of the extreme panic attack are well known: TV and movies have shown us pretty accurately what a panic attack can look like. Difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, dizziness, and fear of death, are all symptoms of a panic attack. However what’s a bit misleading from the typical portrayal is that most of the time these symptoms do not manifest themselves in the extreme form. Sure, the person bent over, needing to sit down, unable to leave the house are possible symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack. However, anxiety attacks can contain more subtle signs such as lightheadedness, shallow breathing, spacing out, feeling disconnecting from the physical sensations in the body, or imaging that something bad could happen. All of these things are also the result of too much anxiety, or a system overload.
Impacts of a Subtle Anxiety Attack
A continuous experience of these more subtle symptoms isn’t good, as research shows anxiety slowly harms our system and is linked to heart disease and physical injury such as shoulder and neck pain. But these symptoms appearing can also steer our behaviors, causing us to eat less or more, increasing our alcohol or drug use, or causing us to isolate and shy away from relationships.
Another misconception about anxiety attacks is that something concrete must happen before an attack, or that a specific event must cause an anxiety attack. Often this is not the case. The more subtle anxiety attack can appear without obvious triggers, and can therefore go unnoticed. The absence of a trigger combined with subtle symptoms makes it hard to identify that anything at all is happening.
I think I’m Having Anxiety – What Should I do?
Recognizing these physical symptoms and seeking professional help is powerful, and can be life changing. While change isn’t always easy, it isn’t impossible. So I encourage you to pay attention to your body’s subtle clues and if you are managing a lot of stress to reach out for support. Seeing a professional can help you recognize and diagnose the subtle anxiety attack. Recognizing attacks can give you the sense of control needed to stop them and live more presently in the moment.
Many therapists offer free initial consultations, and especially during Covid-19 lockdowns, many are available for virtual therapy sessions. To schedule a free consult with me, click here. Otherwise, search for a therapist in your local area online. And remember – help is out there, and you will get through this. If you need some immediate advice about dealing with an acute attack, try some of these.
Take good care,