This post was written by Vinsent Pokhvaly from thefitnesswebzine.com.
How I Overcame Anxiety (Without Medication) Click To Tweet
Whether we like it or not, all of us will go through stress at some point in our lives. Sometimes it may be one event such as losing your job causing you temporary stress, which eventually goes away when you find a new job. However, on some occasions it may be more drastic, such as having multiple stressors at the same time over an extended period – besides losing your job, perhaps you lost your partner as well, have a bad relationship with your family due to some underlying issues, yet being a sole caregiver to a disabled parent – then you could be experiencing stress that has been accumulating, resulting in chronic stress.
Chronic stress is the most severe form of stress, where symptoms like depression and anxiety becomes clearly evident. You may be wondering, how is stress different from anxiety and are they the same? No, they are not the same thing but they are induced by the same chemical reactions in the brain.
Stress is present when there is an underlying cause – external factors such as your crazy boss, or major changes in your life such as leaving town and being alone in a new environment. The difference is, anxiety remains even though the stressors are gone.
For example, you already left town and have made friends in your new environment, but you still have that fear of being alone, afraid that they may leave you. What if my friends leave town? What if I lose my job and go to a new environment again? How do I start building all these relationships from the start all over again? Will be the people be just as accepting? It is a normal response to feel stress and anxiety when you feel threatened. It’s just how our body reacts.
My panic attacks
For many years, I had panic attacks and never knew that what I experienced were actually panic attacks. I went to the A&E many times, thinking it was a medical emergency. Sometimes, I thought it was an asthma attack and even a heart attack. I went for ECG and X-rays, to find out there was nothing wrong with me. However, what I experienced were hyperventilation, accelerated heartbeat, shivering and having cold sweat. I was pretty convinced there was something physically wrong with me.
After 3 years, a doctor referred me to a mental institute and that’s where I realized what I was having were panic attacks. I was diagnosed with a panic disorder based on my story (depression, extreme fear of death, traumatic childhood experiences), which triggered the “fight or flight” response in my body.
My panic attacks were not that serious when I was 15, but became more frequent until I was 18. That was when I started having them in random places out of the blue – in the middle of class when I was studying, in the train when I wasn’t thinking or worrying over anything stressful. They became so frequent I was embarrassed. Ashamed that people would see me shivering and hyperventilating on the bus, as I could not control the shivers and they were pretty intense.
So that’s when I went to a doctor who referred me to the right place. I was on Mirtazapine to treat my panic disorder but at the beginning, I started experiencing more frequent panic attacks instead. Instead of once every few days, it became a few times a day! So I stopped medication and started searching on how to deal with panic attacks. I had panic attacks for a really long time, 6 years to be exact, and overcame it in 2013 (3 years ago). But if I knew how to deal with it earlier on, if I had known those were panic attacks, I would have been able to cope with it better.
Related reading: 40 Ways to Manage Anxiety (+ Free Printable)
How I overcame it
I recovered without the use of medication, but by understanding how this panic attack works. Whenever I had a panic attack, I thought that I was going to die, and I feared death greatly. This lead to more panic attacks, because I started fearing when the next panic attack would be. The more I thought about it, the more I triggered a panic attack upon myself. I triggered the “fight and flight” response in my body, tricking it into thinking it was in danger when apparently there was no danger or threat around!
So after reading up lots of articles, practicing breathing exercises, working out to get my mind off things, I realized that the first step was to acknowledge and understand that a panic attack happens when the body thinks it is in danger, it does not really have to be in danger.
So instead of fearing and thinking “What if this is life threatening? Am I going to die?”, I tried changing my perspective to “This is a normal response that has become overactive due to my constant anxiety, don’t be stupid, you’re not in any danger. You went for all health tests and you are healthy”. I mean, even if you didn’t, it is not possible to die from a panic attack and if you think you are crazy, you are not due to the fact that you could think that you were going crazy! I was also afraid that I was going mad at some point of time. But if you really do have health issues and heart problems, please see a doctor and not assume that it is a panic attack!
So back to my story, I did a lot of self-talk in my head to get to where I am today – free of panic attacks and depression! Also, it is important to know that a panic attack is just a panic attack, a passing phase. Once I understood that, I knew how to react when a panic attack came. I also had to use breathing exercises to slow my breathing and calm myself down. Of course, it’s not that easy and like all other things, it takes time.
How you can overcome it, too
Firstly, you need to find the root cause (in my case, the fear of death), and heal within yourself. Next would be to understand how your body responds to stress, anxiety and fear. And lastly, it would be to change your perspective. If you are wired to think negatively, things will always be bad.
But if you change your thinking pattern into a positive one, you will replace your negative thinking with positive ones and you will notice a difference! Not only did I change my thinking, I changed my entire lifestyle and most importantly, I am healthy as I fall ill less frequently (I used to be sick all the time and head to the doctor every month when I was depressed and anxious, literally permanently on medication, but no longer anymore!), and at peace with myself and those around me.