When Anxiety Attacks

After a significant anxiety attack last week, evidenced by a shockingly high blood pressure reading, I have decided to write about the mental and physical effects that anxiety attacks can cause.

Anxiety, or Anxiety Disorder?

There are still many people who believe that anxiety is all in a person’s head. They mistakenly believe that anxiety is nothing more than feeling a bit worried, or simply dwelling on anxious thoughts.

Those of us who live with an anxiety disorder (of which there are many types), know this to be nonsense.

There is a huge difference between the “normal” emotion of feeling anxious, and experiencing anxiety attacks. Everyone has felt anxious at some point, but in most cases, this feeling is situational and manageable.

It’s quite natural to feel anxious before an exam, during an interview, or if a loved one is unwell. Maybe you’ve got a big deadline at work or you’re moving to a new area. Maybe you’re simply feeling under the weather. These relatively “normal” things can cause anxiety for anyone.

But when anxiety is persistent, disproportionate, affects your quality of life and prevents you from doing your daily functions, it is likely that you are experiencing a form of anxiety disorder.

A Wake-Up Call

Last week, I had an appointment with my GP. After the appointment, I was asked to get a blood pressure reading (at one of those fancy self-service machines). My reading was 213/75 (dangerously high!) and I wasn’t allowed to leave. I had to sit and wait for a doctor to release me. The GP realised I was mid-anxiety attack, so I was finally released, on the understanding that I’d come back in two hours to have my blood pressure taken again. I went home and tried to calm down. When I went back, my blood pressure had gone down.

It was a scary situation. Apart from the fact that high blood pressure can cause serious health problems (and even death), the fact that I had brushed off my symptoms as “just my anxiety” really made me stop and think.

I realised that I have become so accustomed to my anxiety that I’ve almost stopped registering my symptoms. My blood pressure was sky-high, yet I was walking around and trying to carry on as normal.

Seeing 213/75 in black and white on the printout in front of me made me realise how much internalised ableism I inflict on myself. I tell myself that “it’s just anxiety”, when really, “just anxiety” is much more than something you can brush off or will away.

Mental and Physical Symptoms

I decided to write a list of mental and physical symptoms that I experience due to my anxiety disorder. Although I’m sharing it with you, I mainly did this to remind myself of the toll that anxiety takes on my mind and body. I seem to have forgotten to give myself grace and to allow myself to rest when anxiety is draining me.

You might have different symptoms than I do, or maybe you will relate to some in this list. They don’t always all happen at once. Some are more frequent and more debilitating than others, but they’re all symptoms that I had experienced during an anxiety attack.

Symptoms of anxiety
  • Tight chest/chest pain
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Inability to speak coherently or at all
  • Dissociation
  • Inability to focus
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness/loss of balance
  • Loss of spatial awareness
  • Shaky hands/loss of dexterity or coordination
  • Crying or trying to hold in tears
  • Inability to move/feeling frozen
  • Urge to run away or hide
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling suspicious or paranoid
  • Sensory overload
    • severe aversion to sound, light, proximity to others, being touched
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Becoming irritable, frustrated, or angry
  • Hyperventilating
  • Stimming/tics
    • tapping my lip or collarbone, cracking my knuckles, leg bouncing, rocking
  • Talking to or arguing with myself
  • Can’t make eye contact
  • Severe fatigue
  • Flushed, warm cheeks
  • Temperature dysregulation

I’m sure there are some I’ve missed off this list, but as you can see, it’s pretty extensive… and these are just the symptoms I personally experience(d).

Anxiety is mentally and physically exhausting

To dismiss anxiety disorders as something that is totally in our heads – something that we can ignore or push aside – is to completely misunderstand the nature of anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders are mentally exhausting. We are overwhelmed with racing, intrusive thoughts, and a myriad of other mental stimuli. But that’s not all. Anxiety takes a horrendous toll on our bodies. Our whole bodies. When we think of an anxiety disorder, we must acknowledge the whole disorder, its varied effects, and the consequences for those who live with it.

This post might seem quite gloomy. It is. Living with an anxiety disorder, in my experience, is gloomy.

But there is hope… and I’m going to write more about that in a later post.

For now, I hope this post was either enlightening or validating.

Support

If you need emergency help and there is risk of harm to yourself or someone else, please call 999 or present yourself at A&E. If you have a care plan, please follow it. If you need non-urgent help, call 111, find your local mental health helpline, or make an appointment to see your GP.

For other support organisations, my Support page has many links for various aspects of mental health and mental illness.

If you have lived experience of anxiety attacks, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Maybe you have experienced symptoms that I didn’t list here?

Perhaps you have an opinion about internalised ableism that you’d like to share?

Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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4 comments

  1. What a great post. I say “it’s just anxiety” myself, even knowing that “just” is one of those words that can be problematic.
    It’s a good list. For me, anxiety has been a strong driver of both my eating disorder and my NSSI. It’s comormidity is problematic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right, Em – “just” can be so invalidating and dismissive, whether the source is external or internal. As for anxiety and comorbidity, I couldn’t agree more. Anxiety has underpinned most of my diagnoses at some level. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciate your ongoing support. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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