What are the symptoms of anxiety attacks?
Symptoms of anxiety can vary from a few butterflies in your stomach to a panic attack where you feel that your heart is going to explode and you are going to pass out. These sensations are produced by a natural response to a threatening situation as the body gears up for defensive action or running away. In today’s complex world this process often gets hijacked by worrying thoughts, fuelling excess anxiety and panic attacks.
Some anxiety is commonplace and rarely escalates to a panic attack unless something presses your ‘inner anxiety accelerator’, and your body goes into overdrive. I recall a time that my friend Caroline and I were out on her ponies, a mare called Charlotte and her foal Bracken. They were rescue ponies, I rode Bracken who had grown into a steadfast and reliable ride. Caroline was on Charlotte who was very sensitive and easily spooked.
When Caroline’s dog Joey started to bark and run around, Charlotte started to get agitated. Suddenly she started to kick out and within a few seconds she had exploded into one of those bucking bronco beasts that you see in a show ring. Caroline hung on in there but the inevitable happened, one buck after another and my pal flew into the air and hit the ground.
Charlotte’s anxiety had spiraled very quickly
Once she had thrown Caroline, Charlotte bolted. Time felt like it stopped as I suddenly became aware of a possible scene unfolding; the gate to our field was open and beyond that was a busy road. Charlotte was heading blindly in that direction. Caroline was injured but sitting up so I turned Bracken and rode as fast as I could. We reached the road just in time to flag down two motor cyclists and several cars as a terrified Charlotte thundered across the road and charged through a hedge on the other side.
The horse’s eyes were as wide, her great chest was heaving - she looked crazed. Charlotte had no idea where she was going; she was simply on high alert. I could feel the beat of her heart thumping up her neck.
She had mistaken the barking and movement of the dog as a real threat
The calmer horse Bracken was able to ignore Joey’s barking, but Charlotte had quickly become upset. Within seconds her anxiety spiraled and she had the equine equivalent of a full blown panic attack.
My stress reaction to the consequences of two tons of horse leaping onto a busy road without warning to drivers made me react quickly and with extra energy. An entirely appropriate anxiety reaction that resulted in effective action - the whole reason for emotion in general.
Commonly reported symptoms of anxiety
- You sense butterflies in your stomach
- You may sweat more
- You try to breath in more
- Your heart beat feels faster and your attention might be drawn to this
- You can’t think straight and feel generally agitated
- Your sole attention is on the perceived threat or the way the you are feeling
- These feelings can be fleeting or go on for hours
More worry and the symptoms can escalate to a panic attack
But these symptoms can progress if you go higher up the anxiety scale. This can lead to an anxiety or panic attack which can last several minutes and can cause extreme emotional and physical distress.
- You feel as if you are going to faint or die
- As if your legs are going to give way
- You gasp for breath as your body asks for more oxygen to fuel its preparation for the perceived danger
- Your heart pounds
- You visibly start to sweat
- Those trembling legs feel as if they are going to give way
- Many people have a feeling of wanting to escape, flee from the place that you are in
- Your mind goes a complete blank
- Time stands still
- You think you might loose control of your bowels
If like Charlotte you have become over sensitive you can lower that sensitivity so that anxiety accelerator can bypass previous triggers. With training Charlotte has become a reliable and calmer horse who is able to walk along busy roads, ignore barking dogs and just gets a whole lot more fun out of life as you will do when you can bypass those old worrying thoughts and the symptoms of anxiety disappear.