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The Agony of Anxiety and Panic: What people need to know

Updated on February 27, 2011

According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America, over 40 million people suffer from Anxiety disorders. Having suffered from this myself for many, many years, I have read hundreds of posts from fellow sufferers. For a large number of us, this disorder is mostly a deep dark secret we try to hide from others, because we feel ashamed, lost and that people will think we are just crazy. If you've never suffered from anxiety or panic disorders, you don't understand the true agony of these disorders. It's not your fault, because it's hard to understand anything you've never experienced, but learning about it can be an enormous help to your loved ones who do suffer from this.

Having anxiety/panic disorders makes you feel helpless, hopeless,depressed, different from others, frustrated, out of control, and mostly, just terribly fearful. It can ruin your self-esteem, make any decision a torture and eventually sometimes lead to fear of leaving your own home (agoraphobia). The physical symptoms are awful and include dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling hands, confusion, and chest pain, just to name a few. And all of this happens because your body is reacting to a danger...only there is no real danger there. And we don't know why we are reacting this way and can't control it. Many people just think they are going crazy, which only adds to the problem, as you can well imagine!

There are various methods to learn to control these disorders and medications, but I'm not going into that here. There are many wonderful sites out there to visit and get that information. I'm writing this mainly to try to get the loved ones of sufferers to try to understand these disorders better. One of the main things a person with an anxiety/panic disorder needs is a support system. Unfortunately, I've found many don't have one. Their family and friends just don't get it and often make it worse by saying things like, "just calm down" or "toughen up". I understand how frustrating this problem is for those close to us. They just don't know what's wrong with you and why you are so anxious, or having panic attacks, over seemingly nothing.

Imagine going to the grocery store, and the entire time you're there you are dizzy, having shortness of breath, afraid you're going to faint, having a hard time keeping your hands from trembling, and just feeling terribly frightened. You wake up in the morning and immediately start feeling anxious. You struggle all day long to try to keep yourself together and do what you have to do. You don't really want to be around anyone because you're so afraid they'll think you are acting strangely. Your mind can't focus on anything but the anxiety you are feeling and is just waiting for a panic attack to come. It is truly agonizing to live this way. It is also extremely exhausting.

What I want non-sufferers to know is that the person who is suffering this can't help it. Most everyone has experienced anxiety and panic in their life. You have to make a speech and may feel anxious. Your baby trips and falls, and you panic that they have seriously hurt themselves. But once you've made the speech the anxiety usually goes away. Once you realize your baby is fine, the panic subsides. For people with anxiety/panic disorders it never goes away or subsides. Maybe for awhile, if they are lucky, but not permanently. And, as I've already mentioned, they are having these feelings for "no reason", which makes it doubly frightening and uncontrollable. 

The main thing you can do to help them is just let them know you are truly there for them. They can feel so alone and isolated, and knowing that someone "has their back" is worth it's weight in gold. Go with them if they are afraid to go alone. Let them know that if they need to leave wherever you are at, it's ok. Honestly, there isn't any magic thing you can do to get them out of the anxiety or a panic attack, but just having someone with them that they trust is a huge relief for them. Let them know you love them and that you don't think they are crazy or being ridiculous. This type of support will help them tremendously.

It is important for someone with these disorders to get help. They should start by going to their doctor. Medication, therapy, self help books, anxiety sites and forums are all options. Joining a forum or a local anxiety disorder group can help because it lets them know they are not alone.  For some reason, we tend to think "it's just us", that we are some freak of nature and everyone else is "normal". Just finding out how many people suffer from this helps so much. I have to add that sometimes it takes a long time for them to get over this, so patience is also vital.Try to remember that this is a real disorder and that even if you can't relate, you can still help. So encourage them to get help and just BE THERE for them.


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