Julie stood gazing at the stream flowing through the park just below the window of her counselor’s office. She crossed her arms and held herself trying to get her breathing back to normal and wishing that she could let the stream carry these feelings away for her. Just a few minutes ago she had been nearly hyperventilating after talking about the death of her three year old son, only a few months ago. Julie explained that at times she felt as if she could not breathe, that her chest tightened and she had the overwhelming feeling of something terribly wrong, an unknown fear and sense she was losing control. At other times she said she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach and the air knocked out of her, she would wake up in a panic and not know why.
These symptoms are not unusual for someone having anxiety or panic attacks. To describe them to someone who has never experienced them is near impossible. It is usually minimized since they have never woke in the middle of the night gripped by a sense of complete and total panic that something is terribly wrong and being helpless to do anything. Or to walk into a situation or place feeling your chest tighten and as if a huge weight is upon it. These are very real feelings when having panic and anxiety that can be triggered by seemingly benign situations or places the subconscious mind determines to be dangerous and frightening.
Julie and others with similar experiences are taught relaxation techniques and how to recognize the first symptoms of anxiety and how to avoid full blown panic. But even so, it is not as easy as one would think. While some might reason that it is unrealistic fear and criticize Julie or others for being too weak or just wanting attention, the fact is that there is a biological explanation for anxiety and it can be serious, often crippling the person affected with fear. At times they avoid any situation that can bring on an attack and this can lead to a fear of going out in public, or to specific places that might bring on an attack.
Part two will describe physical symptoms and ways to calm oneself before or during an anxiety or panic attack.