Anxiety Attacks

Being diagnosed with cancer often causes anxiety.  I know it did for me.

But what about anxiety attacks?    I had my first anxiety attack several months after my chemotherapy treatments I was walking down a hallway at the hotel where I was staying.  I started gasping for air.  I felt like I was choking. I banged on the door of my friend and through hand gestures I told him I was choking.  He immediately started performing the hemlock procedure on me.  No food came out but I stopped choking and started to breath normally.  I didn’t think much about it until it happened again.  I was home alone this time with no one near by.  I was seriously frightened; I thought I was going to choke to death.  I was gasping for air and making weird uncontrollable sounds like a barking dog.  It lasted about 20 minutes.

The next day I had a scheduled appointment with my primary care doctor.  When I told him about those two episodes he concluded they were an anxiety attacks.  I have never had an anxiety attack and I was not anxious or worried about anything.  Let me tell you, it was frightening.  My doctor explained that they are almost always harmless and rarely last for more than 20 or 25 minutes.  That made me feel a little better.  What he told me next, almost gave me another attack.  What he told me was that they could become chronic causing disruption in my normal lifestyle.

I learned that these attacks usually occur without warning and without any apparent reason. Some anxiety attacks can come about as the result of a specific event like getting stuck in the elevator. Or in other cases, like mine, attacks come out of the blue. An anxiety attack is disproportionate reaction to the situation or the problem at hand or for no apparent reason at all.  Either way it can make you excessively fearful, or sometimes incapacitated.

Cancer is bad enough.  You don’t want to add anxiety attacks.

Here are some symptoms of an anxiety attack:

• Heart palpitation (increase in heartbeat)

• Hot flashes or chills

• Hyperventilation

• Surge of overwhelming panic

• Feeling detached or unreal

• Trembling or shaking

• Trouble breathing

• Feeling of losing control, going crazy; or fear of dying

• Choking sensation

• Nausea or stomach crams

• Sweating

• Dizziness

• Chest discomfort or pain

Handling anxiety attacks

As I said, anxiety attacks rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during this time, you can  totally lose control of yourself and experience some of the signs listed above. Here are some suggestions:

Relax – I know, I know that’s easier said than done during an attack.  Remember it is important not to submit yourself to attack. Breathe. Deep breathing helps calms and relaxes your mind and body. During an anxiety attack, focus your breathing to slow down your heartbeat. This also diverts your attention from the attack which helps you recover faster. Take some time and practice deep breathing exercises even if you are not stressed or feel anxious.

Think positively – Again, during an anxiety attack, it is often impossible to relax or even calm yourself, but you have to be in control. Push more positive thoughts to your head. Instead of thinking that others will humiliate you or you are going to faint because you cannot take the pressure, think of the good things. Do no anticipate that something bad will happen because in reality, there isn’t. Keep in mind that the more you think negatively, the more anxious and panicky it is going to be.

Think that it will be over soon – and it will. Anxiety attacks do not last for more than an hour so there is no reason for you to think and feel that your world is over. You don’t have to be mindful of the time. You don’t even have to count every minute that passed. What you should be doing is be conscious that it will not going to last forever.

Start an exercise program – We have heard that exercise has lots of benefits both to the body and the mind. It is also a great stress buster and anxiety reliever. Experts agree that as little as 30 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 times a week is enough to lower the level of stress and reduce the chances of having episodes of anxiety attacks.

Talk to someone you trust – It can be your friend, your wife (husband), a relative or a therapist. Often, having someone who listens and understands what a person is going through will make a lot of difference. This is because it allows you to bring out your emotion rather than keeping it to yourself.

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