If someone were to ask me about it now, I still don’t know quite what I’d say; but that’s because I have been battling with anxiety disorder since April.
This may be news to a lot of my friends or family who read this (if they do in fact read my blog – what a great way to find out if they do!) as I have kept it largely to myself while trying to work what my anxiety is is all about and how I can control it. I think I may have worried that people may not know about anxiety, and therefore I haven’t known how to speak to them about it.
Due to this I want to take a few steps to try and communicate about it with people, but not in a preachy way – I want to approach it in a way that actually helps; and think raising awareness about aspects of anxiety in a ‘real’ way is key.
For today I thought I would attempt to describe how feeling edgy and anxious can affect breathing. It’s one of the main signs of anxiety, and I’m eager to try and explain how it feels to those who have not experienced it.
For those of you who are athletic, think of that feeling when you can’t quite get your breathing right (normally at the beginning of a run) and you are totally aware of the fact.
You know that you know how to breathe, and you know that you should be able to do so naturally, so why on this occasion won’t it fall into timing. You try adjusting your stride length or the tempo of your music but it doesn’t help.
Got that image and recall how frustrating it is? Well that is the feeling – only those moments where your breath catches in your throats can affect someone who is anxious at any time, even when they are sitting down with a cuppa.
Maybe you’re not athletic? Ok, cast your mind back to a time when you have been faced with lots and lots stairs, or are having to rush along. You are very aware you’re your fitness is being tested and you can’t breathe properly. The problem is that you don’t want anyone else to know that you are struggling and so you try to hide the fact, all the time you are getting warmer and warmer…
If you’re lucky that will be as bad as it gets, but imagine at that point someone starts talking to you, - so you have to try to have a conversation, all the time trying to appear calm but inside wondering when you can gasp for air? You are conscious of the burning sensation, and the fact that no matter what you do you can’t pretend that everything is “a-ok”...
If you can cast your mind to those feelings of not being able to inhale enough while trying to subtly gulp as much air as you can, and then add to that the feeling of someone having their hands around your throat while standing on your chest (a very agile someone, it seems!) then you are getting close to how it feels for someone struggling with breathing due to anxiety. Combine it with a emotions that may include desperation, shame and frustration, and you are there.
The problem with being in this situation (other than the obvious) is that the more you are aware of breathing being an issue the worse it becomes, and the more your breath catches. Also unlike the other situations, sitting down and taking some time doesn’t automatically rectify the situation.
What can you do if this is affecting you, or someone you are with?
Understanding why it happens and escalates does really help. The slightly ironic thing in this case is the fact that you feel like you can’t inhale but that largely due to the fact that you’re probably not exhaling.
When you are inhaling in short sharp breaths you can’t suddenly take a deep breath without first exhaling a long breath – go ahead and try it, the attempt at a large in breath will stick in your throat.
Also when you breathe in a short sharp manner you get chest pain and heaviness due to the stress you have placed on your muscles in your chest (its common to feel like you are having heart problems in a panic attack, but the pain is your chest, not your heart).
The lack of deep breaths can make you lightheaded and dizzy, it increases your heart rate. Different people are affected to different levels, if my anxiety turns into a full panic attack I I also get numbness in my hands. All of these symptoms are scary and can start a downward spiral of panic. This is why I feel it is important to understand why they are happening, as at least then they are slightly less alarming (only slightly).
So there you have it, I guess my closing point for this post is just to say remember to exhale – I know it’s the opposite of what instincts may say, but I promise it really does help.
If you’ve made it this far then thanks for reading. I hope that the post has been useful in some way for you even if it’s just slightly increasing awareness or understanding.
All the very best to everyone