It was 3:20 am on a Saturday morning and I woke up gasping for air with an extreme amount of pain and pressure in my chest. I gasped trying to catch my breath and I could not seem to breathe comfortably. It was as though someone was sitting on my chest smothering me. I had sharp pains that radiated around to my back which caused me to fall out of the bed in a panic. I began to think “was my time up?” “Could this be the end?” I was praying… breathing… praying… breathing. I sure thought it was the end. I called my husband telling him something was wrong and I may need him to come home from work. “Would I seriously die here?” I called my dad and he took me to the local emergency room where many tests were ran from blood work, a gall bladder ultrasound, an EKG then a chest x-ray. All tests came back normal. What could it have been that was causing so much pain?
After about two hours of being poked and prodded in the ER, I was told I had chest wall pain which most likely came from stress. WHAT?! They explained with extreme amounts of stress, the body’s reaction is to tighten the muscles in the chest as well as around the rib cage. Surely this could not have been a result from stress could it? The short answer… YES. But it actually was a little more complicated than that.
You see, in 2015, we endured a house fire and I lost everything material and was left with nothing but the clothes on my back. This was a very traumatic event that you will have to be filled in at a later date. As a result, I began seeing a therapist I was referred to from an amazing friend. She has helped me work through several situations that have been quite beneficial and working through the fire was definitely one of them. With that being said, fast forward two years later and I am still seeing her to help me manage life in every aspect. After my ER visit, I had an appointment. We began as we normally did, she asked what was new and how things were going and I casually mentioned my trip to the ER thinking we would brush past it. To my surprise, my entire appointment was centered around my ER visit. “How did I feel?” “What led up to it?” During my session, she helped me realize what I had experienced was an anxiety attack.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is not a condition in its own entity, it is an umbrella term under which many anxiety disorders are placed in. Anxiety, according to the Cambridge Dictionary is an “uncomfortable feeling of worry about something that is happening or might happen” (2016). It develops from a complex set of risk factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States affecting 40 million adults based on information from Anxiety and Depression Association of America (www.adaa.org).
Women are more likely to be affected than men. Anxiety typically begins in childhood and the median age of onset is 7 years old. With so many individuals affected by anxiety, you either know someone who has anxiety or you may be affected by anxiety. Growing up, I never felt or knew what it felt like to be anxious, at least I did not think I did. Because anxiety can be revealed after life events, my anxiety became apparent to me shortly after our house fire and after speaking with a counselor about it, I came to realize, anxiety is something I have dealt with my entire life. If I had known this early on, I could have done something different to work through numerous situations along the way.
Signs of Anxiety…
Natural anxiety is often present after a stressful situation or event that does not last long. The type of anxiety individuals who suffer from anxiety conditions experience is a little different. The episodes are more frequent and are not necessarily tied to a certain event or problem. Although each type of anxiety condition carries its own set of characteristics, most have the following signs in common…
- Excessive worry about all things no matter how big or small
- Restlessness or feeling on the edge
- Feeling extremely tired/fatigue
- Muscle tension
If you have ever had any of the above signs, it is good to know that you are not alone. With the way our world operates today placing such high demands to be without flaw, more and more people are experiencing anxiety but often are suffering alone. When you begin to open up and share your experience with others, you will see that it is more common than you know. Anxiety is easy to treat and it is ok to ask for help. You can find help through therapy with a therapist or counselor and medication. To find what works best for you, it is important to research your options. There are great websites online such as www.postivelypositive.com, www.anxietyslayer.com, www.anxietycentre.com, as well as Youtube. You will be surprised about how many people there are who talk about their struggles and ways they deal with anxiety that can really be helpful. For me, I have a strong sense of faith and I pray and surround myself with like-minded individuals. I chose to work with a therapist while I implemented a workout regimen that not only helps me relieve stress, it also helps me get my body together J I also have a great group of friends and family who are very supportive and they love me for me.