Anxiety is commonly described as a state of fear and apprehension or simply put – panic. A more severe case of anxiety is called a panic attack and almost everyone can attest to a garden variety of a panic attack during a surprise test, a job interview or public speaking.
While anxiety is relatively common as a passing experience, some of us are affected by anxiety very frequently for any number of reasons, or none at all, and this is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
I have GAD and it used to be a heavy burden to my professional and personal life, consequently I am particularly compelled to write this article in the hope that some of you can benefit from my experience.
Anxiety is a tricky beast but it can be domesticated. It’s been many months since I put mine under control and, while it still growls at me from time to time, I’ve learned to keep it dormant and even draw strength from it.
Knowing more about anxiety is a crucial first step in fighting it because you need to be able to recognize the symptoms as soon as they surface.
Panic attack symptoms
- Hyperventilation (breathing shallow and fast)
- Abdominal distress (chest pain, heart palpitation and or nausea)
- Elevated heart rate
- Feeling trapped in your body
- Feeling like you are being surrounded or cornered
- Feeling of dread and/or paralysis
How to stop a panic attack
As soon as you recognize you are experiencing symptoms of a panic attack you should do the following:
At this point you have too much adrenaline in your system, your mind and body are in a fight or flight mode. You will not resolve the situation by arguing in this state so just excuse yourself and get away for a few minutes, preferably outdoors where you have fresh air and open space.
Once you have calmed and thought things trough, you will come back to deal with it in a much more civil and thoughtful manner.
The most fundamental symptom of a panic attack is hyperventilation, which is putting undue pressure on your lungs and brain. Breathe in deep and exhale slowly for the duration of the whole exercise.
Now that you’re breathing normally, your mind and blood pressure are consequently settling down.
Sit leaned back against something and try to relax your whole body.
- Let go
Focus your gaze on something in the distance, preferably trees or clouds to guide your mind into a state of mindfulness.
- Maintain the calm
Remain like this for at least a few minutes even if you immediately start feeling better.
These are the steps to relax your mind and body; to put your thinking in a state of detachment, safety and control which is the opposite of the state that led you to anxiety.
Now, from this state of detachment, you need to reflect on what led to the conflict which triggered your panic attack.
If your panic attack was caused by an argument with someone, here is a personal advice for reaching an optimal solution:
Look for what you did or said to contribute to the escalation of the discussion and how can you meet the person half way in order to resolve it.
My experience in these situations was that I would feel attacked, so I would react from a state of anxiety which often escalated the problem.
You should definitely hold your counterpart responsible for his or her actions, but additional to that you need to acknowledge your contribution to the issue and then offer an apology and solution.
This will be an honest attempt at resolving the problem and the other person will be compelled to recognize their own fault and accept truce.
“Be selective in your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.” Author unknown
My own anxiety was predominantly caused by social interactions. Two things helped me get the social triggers under control.
The first thing was understanding why people act the way they do, and I’ve elaborated this in my article about unconscious bias.
The other thing was learning how to handle interactions better, which I’ve explained thoroughly in my article about influencing skills.
I heartily recommend you read both of those.
What causes a Panic Attack?
It used to be that anxiety was an important and useful defense mechanism. A sudden threat from a predator would trigger this defense mechanism and produce a condition known as fight or flight.
This is a state in which your body produces adrenaline and puts you in a state of physical preparedness to fight the predator or run for your life.
Nowadays we don’t get many lions pouncing at us from bushes, instead anxiety revolves around other kinds of perceived threats which involve money problems, dealing with issues at work, stressful familial situations etc.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18.1% of the population, according to statistics provided by
AADA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
GAD is a type of nervous over-sensitivity. Seemingly trivial problems can trigger a feeling of threat and lack of control.
The adrenaline only makes things worse at this point as it intensifies the lack of control and feeling of immediate threat so this process results in a nervous overload known as a panic attack.
Now that we understand how anxiety comes about and goes too far, what can we do about it?
Long term solution to anxiety
All of us have basic physical needs like food, water and shelter; something we don’t worry about much in developed societies. Deny these needs from people for a short time and you will see a very primal response.
There is equal evidence that we have basic psychological needs and those are feelings of belonging, purpose, community (people acknowledging and valuing you); and most importantly, feeling that you have a future which makes sense.
It’s easy to understand that if we are deprived of these needs, we will be subject to feelings of disconnection, depression and – anxiety.
The basic premise is that by fulfilling those fundamental psychological needs with a feeling of purpose we will change the default instinct for dealing with worldly problems.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Instead of perceiving problems as threats, we would perceive them as challenges and use a completely different state of mind to deal with them.
When you adopt a purpose and start passionately working toward it, you will quickly see your other psychological needs being fulfilled in the process. You will soon experience a snowball effect of improvement in your worldview, career and community.
While the aforementioned holds true for a large majority of us affected by anxiety, it’s important to note that we’re not all the same. A minority of people who suffer from anxiety are actually experiencing a symptom of a more serious physiological or psychological illness.
My primary suggestion is that you visit a professional and get some counseling which will help you learn more about what’s causing your anxiety.
If you are advised a prescription, use it! Don’t be hesitant to get help in your early stages of dealing with anxiety.
Evaluate your career situation honestly
Evaluating your current situation in your career honestly is another important step on your path to improving your situation.
- Is your work environment toxic beyond repair?
Are you having really bad experiences like mobbing or other types of harassment at work?
- Are you happy with your job but feel like anxiety is holding you back from getting ahead?
Do you colleagues and bosses see you as a recluse, as unreliable or a poor team player?
Whichever of these two issues is bothering you, I encourage you to study this article and the related articles on the blog, the content will be very helpful whether you decide to improve your current situation or start anew.
Should you quit your job due to anxiety?
If you’re genuinely not happy, if you think your relation with your colleagues and bosses is damaged beyond repair or if you are working in a very toxic work environment – yes you should quit.
Not just because you don’t feel your best there, but because you will probably never get a chance to shine and advance in that company.
However, you don’t want this change to be a setback for you career. You need to do it smart and land on your feet. You need to take careful steps to change your job without your career and finances taking a hit.
Start looking around for other companies where you can land an equal or better paid position and where the company has a better workplace culture than your current one.
An important thing to know is that once you switch jobs you will not be greeted with open arms and given much freedom. You will probably have to work very hard in the beginning to prove yourself capable and you will probably be faced with many situations and people who will make you feel equally anxious.
With this in mind, what I want you to do is this: tomorrow, wake up with a determination for a fresh start. Decide to fight your anxiety by building the disciplines that will give you back control of your life.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
If you start following my advice consistently, not only will you land a better job but you will face the new challenges easier and better then you ever could before. This I can promise you because I’ve done it myself.
Writing this article has been a cathartic experience for me. I sincerely hope you will take my advice to heart and start doing the daily steps to make yourself a better person in the long term.
One think I want to drive home and leave you with is this:
The one thing that will be the biggest change for your life is having a vision of a long term goal, something that gives you meaning and purpose.
When you have a vision and are working toward it, you will have the strength of conviction in your thoughts and actions. This will show in your self-confidence, your body language, your tone of voice and you will consequently be turning into your ideal self with every passing day.
What are you experiences with anxiety? Was this article helpful? Please let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you!