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What is an Anxiety or Panic Attack? And how do I know if I am dealing with this?

Wat is een Angst/Paniekaanval? En hoe weet ik of ik hier last van heb?

Fear is a normal reaction of humans to protect themselves from danger. Nowadays it is increasingly common that we experience fear over the smallest things. It becomes an obstacle when we experience continuous fear and start making choices based on this fear. At some point we allow our lives to be completely influenced by fear. When the fear has built up so much and is so great, it will manifest itself in anxiety and panic attacks. These can reduce our daily lives so much that we no longer even dare to go outside. In this blog I first give my personal story about my experience with an anxiety disorder, then I explain what an anxiety and panic attack entails and I give 3 tips for learning to deal with it.

Personal Story

I have struggled for years with an extreme (social) anxiety disorder. It started when I was 22 years old, my anxiety was so high that I had a panic attack. I thought I was dying, started feeling short of breath, felt high pressure in my chest and started sweating profusely. Because I was so scared I kept walking around and couldn't sit still. My mother also panicked, which made my anxiety even worse. In the months that followed, I experienced many anxiety and panic attacks. I was never taught how to deal with my feelings, they were even taboo at home. Crying, fear and anger were not allowed in my home, even extreme happiness was not tolerated. My father ignored me for a month when I started having severe anxiety attacks. This only increased my anxiety, as I felt like I shouldn't be there with all my emotions and so I had to block them away.

Even talking to a psychologist didn't help as he only conveyed theory instead of genuinely listening to what I needed. For example, I was often told that I had to accept everything. But how can I accept something that hurts me so much and makes me feel like I'm dying? Only after reading Tara Brach's book 'Loving life through acceptance' did I understand what actual acceptance means. In this she shows that there is so much more behind the word acceptance than just the superficial name.

Years later I discovered that my anxiety disorder was caused by poor attachment with my parents. My opinion was not allowed, I was often called too sensitive, I had no secure emotional basis (if I cried my parents would laugh) and there was no one who genuinely wanted to listen to me and accept me for who I actually was. This was mirrored to the outside world, I projected my enormous fear of my father onto every person. This is what caused my social anxiety. Of course, everyone has their own story, but anxiety disorders often stem from your upbringing and youth. These are also called traumas. When this fear is so bottled up and not listened to, anxiety and sometimes even panic attacks arise. If you are not yet aware of this, this is very normal, I only found out about it years later, because I did not dare to look honestly at my parents.

What does an anxiety and panic attack mean?

These are sudden and intense feelings of fear and panic, which are often accompanied by associated thoughts (often you do not realize what you are thinking about). For example, during a panic attack you may unconsciously think: if my colleague does not like me, then I am a bad person and I will die. It may sound very intense and unrealistic, but our intense fears are often connected to death. In fact, we can no longer look at the world realistically when we experience such levels of fear and panic. The difference between an anxiety and a panic attack is that feelings of anxiety develop gradually and are experienced as less intense. A panic attack also involves the feeling of loss of control.

There are often physical symptoms associated with an anxiety and panic attack:

- Sweating and shaking are common as we panic and experience 'scary'/suppressed feelings.

- Shortness of breath, high heart rate and palpitations are common reactions of anxiety.

- Dizziness, nausea, and stomach aches can also occur as our bodies become upset.

During a panic attack you often also feel a feeling of suffocation and a feeling of pressure in the chest.

There are also psychological symptoms:

- Feeling of insecurity: because we reflect dangerous situations from our youth (trauma) on contemporary events, we often feel continuously unsafe. It feels like we are under threat.

- Fear of losing control: Since we suppress our emotions, we are often terrified that they will rise and cause us to behave differently. For example, we are not very popular at school and are afraid that if we show our fear we will be bullied. As a result, we try to maintain an image of ourselves that gives us control.

- The fear of going crazy: Since we are not born with anxiety and panic attacks, it makes us very scared when we experience one. It then feels like there is something wrong with us and we are going crazy. Since emotions are a taboo in this society, this is only emphasized even more.

A panic attack often involves overwhelming fear with the feeling of fainting or dying. This can also cause an unreal feeling.

And often behavioral symptoms are also involved:

- Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety: This is a common occurrence as we often bottle up even more anxiety after having an attack. We let ignorance bottle up fear even more and we become afraid of fear again. In fact, the fear only piles up even more.

- Excessive alertness: often causes restlessness. We are actually on 24/7. Even at night, people with severe anxiety cannot sleep well or sleep very lightly. We are actually constantly alert to danger, which makes us very restless. Poor sleep also causes an increased feeling of anxiety and alertness.

- Difficulty with concentration: since we are constantly 'on' and often sleep poorly, we have difficulty concentrating. As a result, we will be less able to perform everyday activities and they will draw more energy.

Panic attacks often involve extreme exercise to try to shake off the feeling. We then try to escape the situation. However, this only makes it worse.

3 tips to learn to deal with your anxiety (disorder) and ultimately get rid of it:

Vos geeft 3 tips hoe je kan omgaan met angst en paniekaanvallen

I deliberately say 'eventually' you will learn to get rid of it, because it takes some time before you can heal a fear (disorder). It is therefore important to take the right help and steps, if this does not happen the fear will only pile up further. In any case, it is certainly possible to get rid of an anxiety disorder, I myself succeeded after a few years. Of course, it also depends on the extreme degree of the fear, on your willpower and the time you put into it every day.

It is important to become aware of obstructive patterns and thoughts

Only when we become aware of our past and the limiting patterns that accompany it can we take steps on our healing journey. Our fears are accompanied by associated thoughts, again originating from trauma. If we don't become aware of these thoughts and limiting beliefs, we will never be able to get rid of our excessive fear. A tip is to write down in a journal about situations that scare you or experience excessive anxiety and what exactly happens in those situations.

Can you perhaps make a connection to your youth? For example, you are talking to your neighbor and you feel fear rising and you start to become extremely insecure. You don't experience any specific thoughts, but these feelings still arise. If this happens more often when in contact with people or a certain type of group of people, it is important to ask yourself why this is the case.

For example, it may be that in your youth you were not accepted by your parents or that your opinion was not allowed. This often involves thoughts such as: 'I am never good enough, I can't do anything, I always do something wrong or even I am a bad person.' It is then logical that you become insecure, since you have the feeling that you could do something wrong. When we examine these limiting beliefs and realize that these beliefs have been imposed on us, we can realize that there is nothing wrong with us and that we are always good enough.

Learn to listen to yourself and your feelings

What I have written before in my blogs is that it is necessary to learn to listen to ourselves. If we don't do this, our emotions will only bottle up even more. When we learn to listen to ourselves, we can eventually develop normal emotion regulation. The best way to listen to ourselves is to focus on our breathing and become aware of this present moment. By becoming aware of this, we can better estimate what we need, for example more rest from work, saying goodbye to friends who do not help us and putting our phone away more often or not watching television for once.

'If we learn to shift our focus to our body through our breathing, we can ultimately experience the emotional freedom we are looking for.' -

Our body is our temple, where we can find everything if we just learn to open up and experience the flow of life. Ask yourself where you feel tension in your body? Is there an emotion involved here? If so, which one? By continuing to ask these questions, we learn to consciously listen to our body. It is important not to want to resolve the tension, but rather to learn to listen to what this emotion wants to tell us. So try not to exercise control, but only to consciously focus on it.

Don't let downs in the process deter you

Healing from an anxiety (disorder) comes with ups and downs, at the beginning it will mainly be downs as the fear has been built up for decades. It is important to realize that it is a process, don't give up! The downs sometimes make it seem like we are not growing, but that is not true, our brains need time to process. Just as habits that cause your anxiety have often been learned for more than 20 years, it also takes a lot of time to unlearn them or at least learn to deal with them better. So be patient and above all be kind to yourself. It's not your fault that this fear has built up and you're certainly not weak or weird. This fear is a logical consequence of the traumas and habits learned in your life.


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