Anxiety is a normal emotion. Humans evolved with it as a survival mechanism. When our great, great, muti-times great ancestors were living in caves, two men went out hunting. They saw a bush moving. One man was brave and decided to investigate what was rustling the bushes. The other man suffered from anxiety and ran away into his cave. As it turned out, there was a hungry lion in the bushes. The first man we will call “dinner,” but the second man who ran away and hid due to anxiety, we will call “our ancestor.”
If you suffer from anxiety (and everyone does at times) you have inherited it from your surviving ancestors going back millions of years. The important thing to understand about anxiety is that it is never fatal. An anxiety or panic attack may feel as though you are having a heart attack, but you are NOT. It won’t hurt you. In the past days, people could “fight or flight”. Anxiety leads to an increase in adrenaline which results in a healthy surge of energy. However, if you are in a situation where you can neither fight or run away, such as arguments with a friend or family, traffic, stress at work, concern about money and bills, or problems with your boss, adrenaline builds up in your body faster than it gets used up. When this happens, unless you get out and exercise to use up the adrenaline, your body will begin to act as though you were exercising. Just as your body forces you to breath, and just as naturally, your body will begin acting as though you are exercising. You will start breathing heavily, heart beating fast, and you will sweat. This isn’t a sign of a heart-attack any more than these symptoms would be if you were working out hard in the gym. It is a sign that your body is healthy and taking care of you. When you naturally become frightened of a panic attack, you only build up more adrenaline and make it worse. Remember to calm down and tell yourself that this is normal and it’s even healthy. Nothing to fear. It is also helpful to breath into a small paper bag, such as a lunch bag (or if you get a panic attack on an airplane a throw-up bag will work).
Breathing into a bag will slow your breathing and also help balance your blood chemistry by re-breathing carbon dioxide. Fast breathing will lead to too much oxygen and that will also make your panic attack worse (oxygen if necessary for life, but it’s also toxic if you get too much – it rusts cars). If you relax and understand what is happening, the panic attack will go away sooner than if you become frightened. Remember, no matter how bad it feels, you aren’t in danger and nobody has ever died of a panic attack (as far as I know). Slow down your breathing, let your tight muscles relax and tell yourself that you will be fine – and you will be.