“I have anxiety every day. I can not concentrate. I can’t sleep. I always believe that something terrible is about to happen”, is the testimony of a person who suffers from anxiety, but his words reflect the reality that millions of people live around the world. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 5% of people suffer from generalized anxiety, although more than 10% suffer from specific phobias and around 3.5% have panic attacks.
How does anxiety start?
The first symptoms of anxiety are usually mild and often go unnoticed. The person begins to feel more irritable and worried than usual. He has troubles for sleeping. Anguish and fear keep him awake until his eyes close with exhaustion.
During this period, some physical symptoms also appear, such as muscle tension, emotional headache, swallowing difficulties, dizziness or even an unpleasant mental fog. Recurring thoughts, generally catastrophic in content, also begin to appear, predicting the worst possible scenarios.
However, most of the people do not tend to give importance to these symptoms of anxiety. They think they will go away on their own, or that they are a temporary condition due to a particularly stressful time. In some cases, the climax of these symptoms is usually the panic attack.
For many people, the panic attack is the alarm bell of anxiety, the signal that they can no longer ignore the problem. If help is not sought at that precise moment, anxiety will continue to grow, squeezing everything in its path, becoming a perennial companion, day after day.
Can a panic attack last for days?
The panic attack is such an intense episode that it usually peaks in ten minutes and subsides almost completely in half an hour. During a panic attack, the adrenaline levels in the body almost double, so that the person experiences tachycardia for anxiety and breathing difficulties.
Hyperventilation often causes confusion, disorientation, and dizziness. We can experience a sense of immense distress and loss of control. After this emotional onslaught, the body will try to regain its basal levels, although it may take a little time before all physiological parameters return to normal. Therefore, it is normal that after having suffered a panic attack, the person feels exhausted, both physically and mentally.
This means that panic attacks are sudden episodes of short duration. Instead, anxiety can last all day. A study carried out at the Institution La Doctrine Chrétienne in Strasbourg graphically revealed the differences in the duration of both disorders:
Extracted from: Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience
It is worth clarifying that generalized anxiety, experienced one day after another, also becomes exhausting. In fact, people with anxiety live in a constant state of alert, as if something terrible is going to happen to them at any moment. Catastrophic thoughts and fears present themselves in the most diverse ways and at the most unexpected moments to leave them almost completely paralyzed.
For a person with anxiety, any situation is potentially dangerous. That generates a tremendous physical and emotional exhaustion. Anxiety affects his concentration and does not allow him to get enough rest. The person feels overwhelmed at every step and does not know what to do to control that feeling of anguish and apprehension. Therefore, when anxiety lasts all day, it ends up being extremely debilitating.
Is it normal to have anxiety every day?
It is not normal to have anxiety every day. Anxiety can be a specific response in certain situations that generate fear or anguish, but when it becomes the norm, it indicates the existence of a psychological disorder. People who have anxiety every day suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. In this type of anxiety, worry is a key element, in addition to being the most characteristic cognitive symptom.
Intrusive and catastrophic thoughts differentiate generalized anxiety from panic attacks and are the factor that fuels the feelings of anxiety, anguish and apprehension that these people report.
Anxiety, therefore, is the result of those incessant worries, of the ideas and images that feed the fears. The problem is usually that, when looking back, it is not easy to find the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is not always easy to locate the cause or the trigger because anxiety tends to grow gradually, feeding on all our worries, insecurities, problems and fears.
In fact, it is not only the result of the stressors that we have experienced but also of our coping styles or our ability/inability to deal with uncertainty. The most sensitive people, those with a tendency to perfectionism and the most controlling, are at a higher risk of developing generalized anxiety at some point in their lives.
Avoidance strategies, for example, also increase the risk of experiencing anxiety every day. If we realize that a thought or situation causes us anxiety, our first impulse will be to avoid it. However, due to the rebound effect, these thoughts attract our attention even more. They become intrusive thoughts, so they not only generate intense and unpleasant emotions but also a feeling of lack of control that increases anxiety.
In any case, even people who suffer from generalized anxiety do not experience it absolutely every day. In “good times,” when things are going well, anxiety can give you a respite – even if it’s brief. However, it is important that people do not let their guard down and do not abandon treatment because if the causes of anxiety are not resolved, when the symptoms return they will be more intense.
In fact, the good news is that anxiety can be treated. You don’t have to resign yourself to living with anxiety every day of your life. The bad news is that anxiety does not usually go away on its own, so it can last for months or years, so it is better to seek specialized help as soon as possible.
Borza, L. (2017) Cognitive-behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience; 19(2): 203-208.