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.
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. The person bent over, needing to sit down, unable to leave the house are a form of an anxiety attack. However, anxiety attacks can contain more subtle signs, like being light headed, having shallow breath, spacing out, 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.
A continuous experience of the more subtle symptoms isn’t good, research shows anxiety slowly harms our system, they are linked to heart disease and physical injury such as shoulder and neck pain. But they also guide 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.
The other falseness about anxiety attacks is that something concrete must happen before an attack. So in this case A happened so of course B (the attack) happened. But this isn’t how it works, usually. Often times there is no clue as to what triggers these subtle attack, so we don’t recognize that we are having one. The absence of a trigger combined with subtle symptoms makes it hard to identify something is happening.
But recognizing the 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 by recognizing the subtle anxiety attack. Recognizing attacks can give you the sense of control needed to stop them and live more presently in the moment.