Your heart is racing, you feel like the room is closing in around you and you’re having a hard time breathing. You’re experiencing chest pain and tightness. You worry you might be having a heart attack and you head to the hospital. But after waiting there for several hours, healthcare providers tell you that it’s just anxiety, and that you should go home and get some rest. But do you still wonder: can anxiety kill you?
Many people with anxiety feel like they are dying when they have an anxiety attack. But anxiety cannot kill you. This article will talk about this common fear, why it happens, and what you can do about it in the future.
Feeling Like Anxiety Will Kill You
Mistaking an anxiety attack for a heart attack or another serious medical condition is common. Treating anxiety costs the U.S. $42 billion a year, half of which comes from people mistaking anxiety symptoms for severe conditions and seeking emergency treatment.
Why You Feel Like You’re Going to Die
Feeling anxious wasn’t always a bad thing. When our ancient ancestors were faced with life-threatening dangers, their sense of anxiety saved their life. This sense is also called the fight-or-flight response. It is a reflex which triggers when your brain perceives a threat that you need to react to immediately.
In a more modern setting, that reflex can lead to negative results. Our mind perceives innocuous scenarios as threatening and activates a stress response. The human body then undergoes several changes. Namely, your sympathetic nervous system causes your heart rate to speed up, your breathing to become faster and your blood pressure to rise. This can feel as though you are having a heart attack. Sometimes, the anxiety is so severe that it becomes a panic attack. Here are some common mental and physical symptoms of a panic attack:
- Fast or hard heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling short of breath
- Tingling fingers
- Tightness in your chest
- Sweating excessively
- Getting tremors or twitches
- Having aches in your head or body
- Feeling weak or fatigued
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Digestive issues, including nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach
- Feeling a frequent need to urinate
- Social anxiety
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating
What to Do When You Feel Like You’re Going to Die
Knowing how to manage your fight-or-flight response, whether it is expressed as anxiety or a panic attack, can help you alleviate your feelings of dying. The best way to manage these responses is by managing the feeling of stress in your life, which is at the root of anxiety.
You can start by incorporating a daily practice of meditation in your life. Spire has several guided meditation tracks that will help you learn how to calm your mind and start managing your anxious thoughts. Try coming into the present or the 7-11 breath to quickly transition into a peaceful state.
On the long term, you’ll also want to investigate other avenues through which you can deal with anxiety. One of the best things you can do is to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. They are trained on how to help you recover from panic attacks and get your anxiety in check.
Let’s look at some different kinds of treatment that mental health professionals may recommend.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy, and has been proven to help treat sources of anxiety. CBT works on the principle that our thoughts affect our feelings, instead of being affected by the situation around us. Through this methodology, CBT can give you techniques to address the causes of your fears and worries, and will also give you several tools to work on those fears until they no longer hold so much power over you. Most therapists use CBT in their practices, so your best bet in starting CBT is finding a therapist that you like.
There are several types of medication that have been proven to help reduce anxiety symptoms. The most commonly prescribed are a type of anti-depressants called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). These help by preventing certain parts of the brain from absorbing too much serotonin or norepinephrine, which are hormones which stimulate the fight-or-flight response in the body. Other helpful medications include beta blockers, antihistamines and anticonvulsants. A psychiatrist can help you figure out what kind of medication is best, if it is necessary at all.
The right amount of exercise has been proven to improve mental health by giving your anxiety an outlet. Physical exercise helps decrease your levels of stress and improve your sleep and mood. Even a short, 10-minute walk provides anti-anxiety benefits.
One study has found that regular yoga practice helps drastically reduce anxiety levels. While many participants in this study were hesitant to start trying yoga, those who practiced it for 10 days found a significant decrease in their overall anxiety levels. Check out Spire’s quick guide on how to start using yoga to lower anxiety.
Embracing Your Anxiety
Worrying about a panic attack or anxiety can lead to becoming more anxious. Learning to accept and embrace your anxiety will help you to confront the problem head-on. Your mental health practitioner will encourage you to accept that it is okay to be anxious and guide you in practicing anxiety acceptance.
If you’re looking for technology to support you in all of the steps above, check out Spire. Spire was created to help people who suffer from anxiety and chronic stress. By tracking your breathing, Spire can tell when you are feeling a little tense and will suggest some breathing exercises in an effort to help you calm down. Learn how it works here.
Anxiety can make you feel like the world is ending. However, most of the time, your mind is getting away from you and jumping to conclusions. Try to remember that your anxiety is making things out to be worse than they are, and work on getting yourself to a calm and peaceful state of mind. Getting long-term treatment can also help reduce the likelihood of anxiety attacks and help you live a happier life.