Breathe: A Peek into Anxiety

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M E N T A L  H E A L T H

Fabiha Atiq

A friend once described the following incident to me:

She got up to get herself a cup of coffee when all of a sudden, without any warning, this intense and hitherto unfamiliar feeling came crashing down on her. Her hands started quivering, as her heart started pounding against her chest and her body went cold. She felt weak and in that moment, she thought she was going to die (her exact words). Her head started hurting so bad that she thought there was an earthquake going on inside her skull. She quickly sunk into her bed, falling into what seemed like a never ending abyss.

The next few days had been living hell for her. She started skipping school, stopped having food, and breathing had become a chore for her. The simplest of tasks seemed utterly difficult to her. She stopped going out, and got out of bed once in a few days, fearing another one of those unnamed attacks she had had would visit her again.

All the blood tests in the world didn’t help her or her family to find out what was wrong with her. Everything seemed fine until one day, she was suggested to see a psychologist.

After a lot of assessments and tests, the psychologist diagnosed her with an anxiety disorder. What she was having were panic attacks. Note that panic disorder (which results in panic attacks) is a type of anxiety disorder. However, a panic attack and an anxiety attack are two completely different things.

What is anxiety and how does it feel like?

The feeling of nervousness, unease — such as worry of fear — is anxiety. This feeling can differ from person to person; they can be mild or severe. Anxiety doesn’t necessarily always result in an attack, it exists in all shapes and sizes. Anxiety can make you feel drained but also restless. It can make you feel like you are unable to get through a moment, but also worrying about the future at the same time. It can make you feel lonely and isolated, but also too anxious to socialise. Anxiety makes you wake up exhausted and doesn’t let you sleep at night. Some lesser known anxiety symptoms are digestive issues, brain fog, cold hands and feet, and the list goes on and on.

What is an anxiety disorder?

By Google’s definition, anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause constant and overwhelming anxiety and fear. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and a few more. They are each very different from one another.

The causes of anxiety disorders are both genetic and environmental. From child abuse, family history of mental disorders, social situations to poverty — everything can contribute to anxiety disorders. These disorders also often occur with other mental disorders, especially mood disorders. 

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

While panic attacks are sudden and extreme, anxiety attacks build up gradually. They do have shared symptoms, however, they are quite different from each other.

To learn more about the differences, check out this link here:
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Now, in our culture, a psychologist or a psychiatrist is known as pagol-er-daktar (doctor for crazy people). But in reality, a psychologist is a mental health professional who studies normal and abnormal mental conditions, and recommends strategies for overcoming behavioural impediments to proper functioning. Psychiatrists are similar to psychologists with one main distinction being that they can prescribe medication, while psychologists cannot.

I have close friends, and immediate family who suffer from anxiety. I myself suffer from anxiety. Anxiety so bad that I shamelessly admit I take medication (prescribed of course) to function on a regular basis; to do regular day-to-day activities. 

To most people, anxiety is nothing. In fact, any mental health related issues are nothing. They will tell you that it isn’t a big deal. But to the people living with them, it is hell, and if ignored, it can turn into something more severe.

When it comes to seeking help for mental health in our society, the saying loke-ki-bolbe? (what will people say?) play a huge part. We tend to think, “Are they going to call me crazy?” or “Will people look at me differently?” But let me tell you, it doesn’t matter. Take a baby-step and seek guidance, for it helps and it matters. Talk to your friends, or your family, and if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of doing that, there is always social media where you can anonymously talk to people with similar experiences, who are more than happy to help you.

A lot of other things contribute to easing anxiety. But the most effective way is to breathe in, and breathe out.

Take a long slow breath through your nose, filling your lungs; then count to three, and slowly release. Inhale and exhale — it isn’t a myth. It truly works.

Go online. Read. Drink water. Breathe. Live.
Take one step at a time. You aren’t alone.

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