There are several definitions of anxiety, some of which are perfectly normal responses to external stimuli. Public speaking, test taking, or the feeling that comes from any doubt or uncertainty fit the bill. The type of anxiety that I’d like to discuss is quite different.
When faced with an uncomfortable situation, the body releases chemicals that make you feel that discomfort. Someone who suffers from uncontrolled anxiety can release these same chemicals unwillingly. Imagine a perfect Spring day and suddenly you know that you can’t be outside anymore. Why? Who knows. That’s the mystery to those in close relationships with people who have panic attacks and severe anxiety. There is no logical reason.
Some may say “relax, there’s nothing to be afraid of” as if that’s news to anyone. It’s not genuine fear, it is the chemical reaction associated with fear. Others might say “get over it” which is of no help whatsoever. Once the chemicals are released, only time or medication can calm the fear.
Another important idea is the distinction between phobias and anxiety. Phobias are linked to specific stimuli, whereas anything can trigger a panic attack. The confusion is likely related to the behavior of the person experiencing the phobia or panic attack. Phobic reactions often include verbal cues as to what caused the fearful reaction. Anxiety often causes the same sort of reaction regardless of the stimuli, which misleads observers into thinking that there is only one source of anxiety.
For those who do not experience these symptoms, picture yourself driving down the Interstate in your brand new convertible during a thunderstorm. Obviously you have the top up and sealed tightly. Now imagine the top opens on its own and ignores your frantic button-pushing as gallons of water come down on your head and into your new car. You have two choices: find shelter (medication) or wait out the storm (time) or both. All you could do was react to what happened, and the same is true of anxiety and panic attacks.
The point I wish to drive home is that anxiety and panic attacks are not optional. No one decides “Hey, now would be a good time to lose control.” Also, once it starts, you can’t just “stop it.” So please be understanding if someone you care about has poblems with anxiety and/or panic attacks. They didn’t choose to be that way, but you can choose to help them weather the storm.