When we think about stress and depression, there are many terms thrown around in articles, and even discussions on media that bear some investigation. We often see depression, the blahs, having lost the desire to do the things that used to bring you joy, paired with anxiety and panic. What is it about anxiety that is different? Panic is another word that most people know, but do they understand the effect that panic has on a sufferer’s ability to function?
Anxiety is defined as a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. Even in this definition, we see panic thrown in there. Anxiety sufferers view themselves as very pessimistic, always expecting a bad or worst case outcome in a given situation. My sister calls herself “Henny Penny,” and frequently apologizes for her preparedness, and circumspect nature. Panic is different from anxiety because of the fight or flight instinct that engages as the brain perceives an immediate threat of harm.
If anxiety is uneasiness, and panic means your body perceives a threat, what happens to people who get depression, anxiety, and panic all at the same time? Will their heads explode? Would you know what to do if it happened to you?
I’m here to attest to the effects of the trifecta of neuroses, the triple threat of mental affliction. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Luckily for me, the readings, and the talk therapy about depression had prepared me well for what lay ahead in my future. I was anxious about my ability to function. That meant I didn’t complete some or all of the activities of daily life. I was unable to perform my job. The uneasiness set in when I began to contemplate the “what if.”
- I lost my income
- I lost my home, car, and contact with my family
- I didn’t have food
- I became physically sick
It’s pretty easy to see from this example a few obviously uneasy results, but a slim probability of happening all at once. Anxiety resulted in self talk that calmed my apprehension. Anxiety is treatable through commonly prescribed drugs like Lorazepam, Xanax, and Klonazepam just to name a few. They sometimes work, and they’re worth the effort to try so that you can determine for yourself whether your mind shuts down at your normal sleep time. Your body needs rest in sufficient supply to rise in the morning and start the next day.
Panic is a different animal. Panic is when your body receives a dose of adrenaline, the hormone that gives us the energy to run, jump, and flee from a situation where imminent threats are perceived, and the body is readying itself for a possible fight with some assailant, real or imagined.
What does the combination of disorders feel like?
To address one person’s coping strategies with the 3 disorders in combination, let me use a simplistic example from my own experience. A typical workday from my job involved airline travel.
Depression: Oh gawd, I have to fly to New York today. I’m packed, but I’ve probably forgotten something important, and the lines at the airport are going to be heinous. This sucks, I’d rather go back to sleep.
Most days I was able to use “self talk” to power through and past these unproductive feelings. You can do this, I’d think to myself! You have status with Delta Airlines, so you will walk up to the medallion agent, avoiding the regular line, and present your ID. You will check your bag, receive your boarding passes, and head for the gate. Before anything else happens, here comes anxiety to make things more difficult to endure.
Anxiety: [Expletive deleted]!!! I hate to travel to New York, especially during the winter! My flight is going to be delayed I can feel it, and I’ll be exhausted by the time I finally get there! I’m unprepared! I’m going to arrive and my luggage will be lost! Notice the abuse of exclamation points here? Anxiety doesn’t care if the probability of all these negative thoughts is small. If the events have happened to you once, then there exists some probability they’ll happen today.
Self talk engages again for relief of anxiety. I’ve traveled to this airport a million times. If I am delayed, then I’ll deal with it when it happens. Why get nuts about it now? Proceed to the next step of getting ready. Pack up the car, find a parking space at the airport, schlep with bags to the terminal, find the Delta ticketing agent, and you begin to notice things happening to you.
- I’m sweating like a farm animal
- The Delta ticket agent is taking too long
- The lines for TSA screening are going to be long
- Other travelers have scowling, worried facial expressions
- I’m going to miss my flight
More self talk…. If I’ve gotten this far, I’m going to see what happens once I reach the airside. Maybe the security lines won’t be bad. If there’s a missed flight or connection, I’ll have to deal with it when it happens. A moment ago I decided not to get nuts yet.
Panic: In the airside terminal there are people in line. You can feel your heart beating abnormally and strongly. Though perspiring before, now you feel wringing wet, and the scalp is dripping sweat down your face. You feel like your chest is being compressed, and you are hyperventilating or experiencing heart palpitations. You are wondering if you’re having a heart attack, and you must find a place to sit down. Other travelers have noticed that you’ve sat down in the TSA line. They’re wondering if they should step over you, perhaps call a TSA employee over, or give you a moment to compose yourself and get back on your feet and keep moving.
The trifecta of depression, anxiety, and panic have left you incapacitated, and on the floor at the airport. You have an abundance of adrenaline in your blood that feels like you’ve ingested 12 double shots of espresso.
Panic is inconvenient, and you can experience panic’s onset at times when the rest of the world has different expectations of you. You need some immediate assistance, and but may not possess the mindfulness to help yourself anymore with self talk.
Mindfulness, and the ability to pause your onset of panic can help those who experience anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. Whenever I think about the importance of stopping the panic response, I think of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well known author and expert of guided meditation that can help panic sufferers to take control of the fight or flight response through increased awareness, meditation, and related breathing exercises. His article Master of Mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to.’ should be required reading for people seeking treatment for depression, anxiety, or panic disorder. For over fifty years, Kabat-Zinn has developed techniques from Buddhism that focus on the breathing, the physical responses to mental stimuli that lead people to unproductive, and scary feelings. Mindfulness allowed me to pause the DVR of my life, to gain a great perspective that combined with talk therapy have helped me reduce the impact of most panic attack onsets. I sincerely hope this reading helps you too.