(Small addition: I’m going to start seeing a one-on-one therapist. Prior to this, it was more than a group thing. So, we’ll see if things change for this journal.)
I’ve touched on this in other posts, but I figure I should go into some more details about my experience with the physical side of anxiety. This is why I thought at the beginning that I was dealing with heart problems. The tightness in my chest and rapid breathing kept having me think it was a heart attack. Took a long time to realize that having one every few days didn’t make much sense. I would have had some long lasting effect or ended up in the hospital if my heart was in that bad a shape. At the very least, I’d have an attack that would dwarf all the others, but it never happened. This is one of the thought processes that led me to looking into anxiety.
That isn’t to say I didn’t check out the physical side. Way back when it started as a mild issue that showed up from time to time, I happened to have some appointments with a cardiologists. They didn’t find anything wrong aside from a heart flutter that would be the equivalent of drinking two cans of Coca Cola in one sitting. Apparently, this is something that people did to imitate a heart condition to get out of the draft. Not sure how the doctors didn’t catch the smell of soda on the person’s breath, but that’s a different story that I have no experience with. Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary was found and I went about my life.
Things got rough when I started having the following on an almost daily basis:
- Light-headed sensations that made me want to lie down. I always considered this to be exhaustion, which was a factor.
- A tightness across my upper torso, which I always call the invisible anaconda. This was the worst part because it’s what had me think it was a heart attack.
- Muscle tension would turn up. Most commonly, I’d feel like I was on the verge of getting lockjaw. Sometimes I would think my limbs were getting pulled to the edge of their limits too.
- I’d develop a cough, which would occasionally come first. This would give the illusion of it being allergies during the high pollen days. Weird thing is that this felt like it countered the possibility of rapid breathing. I couldn’t really breathe quickly when I kept coughing. The urge was there though.
- If I was lying down then I’d be restless. I refused to be still and searched for a position that would make things go away. There were nights where I’d turn onto my side at an odd angle and feel like it improved. This led to me relaxing and believing I found the trick, but it wouldn’t work a second time.
- I don’t know if I had a rapid heartbeat. I don’t want to assume that I did either. The problem is that I’m really bad at checking my pulse. So, I would put my fingers to my wrist or neck to see what was going on to find nothing. This would start a train of thought that had me fearing that I was already dead or about to die. You’d think this would have been a big clue that anxiety was the cause, but I still fall for this when I’m in the midst of an attack.
One thing I learned is that when people spot the physical symptoms of anxiety in another person, they don’t make the connection. This isn’t surprising, but it does get weird when you tell them it’s a panic attack and they still suggest a cardiologist. Sure, let me just get behind the wheel of my car when my head is spinning and take a trip to the nearest doctor for a recommendation. I find that the physical parts of this are the hardest to explain because of this strange aura of doubt from other people. It’s easy to believe someone when they speak about the internal issues since those can’t be seen. You have to take their word on the thoughts of death, the uncontrollable panic, and whatever else rears its head during an attack. Yet, massaging your chest and taking a few long breaths is too visceral for most people to acknowledge as coming from a mental source.
This reminds me of a belief I picked up in college and have been terrible at following. The mind and body are connected in health. If you are suffering mentally then your body will be weakened and vice versa. This is why people who are sick can find extra strength through defiance or exercise can help relieve tension. Instead of being two parts to a puzzle, they’re closer to intertwined support columns that require both be strong to stay together. This is a bit more philosophical than I planned for a post on the physical side of anxiety. Sorry about that, but I guess it does show the connection.