Anxiety and Panic Attacks

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety Written on Wooden Scrabble LettersBeing anxious is a natural human response when we feel threatened, are under stress or dealing with changes, especially if they have a big impact on your life. Humans have evolved ways to help protect ourselves; when under threat our body produces adrenaline and cortisol which help us feel more alert so we can act faster and increase the heart rate so that more blood is sent to where it is needed. Once the threat has passed, we relax, and different hormones are released to help our muscles relax, which can cause us to shake. This is commonly called the Fright, Flight or Freeze response and we have no control over it.

When Does It Become a Problem?

A woman showing signs of anxiety and stress by sitting with her hands covering her face.Once anxiety impacts our daily lives and our ability to live as fully as we want then it is more than just Flight Fright or Freeze and may become a mental health problem. For example, if

  • your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
  • your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
  • you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
  • your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
  • you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
  • you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.

Managing Anxiety

A young women talking with a therapist whilst both are sat on a pink sofa facing towards each other.There are steps we can take to help manage anxiety.

  • Speak to someone you trust. This may be your GP or a close friend. You may find by talking about what makes you anxious, you feel some relief.
  • Try and manage your worries. For example, set aside a particular time to focus on them so you can reassure yourself that you have not forgotten to think about them but set a timer so you do not dwell on them for too long. Write down your worries in a notebook or on pieces of paper you put in an envelope or a jar, but do not ignore them. By writing them down you are acknowledging that they exist, and when one worry disappears, you can cross it out or throw it in the bin.
  • Look after your physical health. A healthy diet and eating regularly helps to keep your blood sugars level which can make a difference to how you feel. Try and do some physical activity as exercise can be really helpful for mental wellbeing. Going for a walk, a run or a cycle for even 10 minutes can make all the difference.

What is a Panic Attack?

A red button on a keyboard reading 'PANIC' in white letters.We mentioned above that panic attacks can be a symptom of anxiety. A panic attack is an extreme fear response, an exaggeration of our normal response to danger, stress or excitement. They can come on very quickly with physical symptoms manifesting themselves over a short period of time. These can include:

  • a pounding or racing heartbeat
  • feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
  • feeling very hot or very cold
  • sweating, trembling or shaking
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • pain in your chest or abdomen
  • struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
  • feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
  • feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings, which are types of dissociation.

If someone is having a panic attack:

  • Reassure them; they may be unable to explain what has caused them to panic and do not pressure them to do this, your calm presence should help.
  • Speak to them in positive, supportive terms – “you will be okay, this will pass in a minute” etc.
  • Remove them from anything obviously causing distress.
  • Encourage them to focus on their breathing and breathe calmly and slowly, in and out through their nose and out of their mouth, to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being lost.
  • Small sips of water may help to calm them.
  • Stamp on the spot. Some people find this helps control their breathing.

WA Management have a range of resources to help support your own mental health as well as that of your employees.

If you would like to learn more about managing your mental health, including anxiety and panic attacks, or supporting someone else’s, WA Management have a range of online training courses that can help such as Mental Health Awareness, Mindfulness and Stress Awareness.

In addition, we also offer Mental Health First Aid Courses at a range of different levels and at affordable prices which can help you support your employee’s mental health!