Hidden Hurt Domestic Abuse Information

Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression

Many survivors of abuse find that after leaving an abusive relationship they suffer from increased anxiety, panic attacks and depression. The combination of depression and anxiety really can be quite overwhelming and frightening, and especially if we don’t understand what is happening with us and our bodies, we can feel as though we are going crazy or may fear that we are somehow physically ill.

Anxiety is something we are all familiar with and which everyone experiences at some point in their lives. We might be anxious about a friend or family member who is ill and needs an operation, or anxious about an exam or driving test. Generally anxiety is the body’s response to a potentially threatening situation, it is like a forewarning or alarm system in which the mind at an often subconscious level recognises potential danger or need for action and prepares the body accordingly, pumping oxygen into the bloodstream and heightening our senses. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is inappropriate, ie when there is nothing to be frightened of. We all have an anxiety threshold and it is when this threshold is much lower than appropriate that anxiety becomes a debilitating and frustrating problem – we feel frightened and uptight all the time or much of the time even when there is no outward obvious reason for it.

A panic attack is a result of being anxious, but being anxious doesn’t have to result in a panic attack. Panic in itself is a normal physical response to danger, like the ‘fight or flight’ response, and as such can serve a useful purpose, eg if we are crossing a busy road and see a car coming at us at speed we ‘panic’ and run. That is a normal healthy response and once the danger is over, the panic subsides. The problem with panic attacks is that they can be unrelated to the reality of what is happening to us at that moment in time, and as such is often described as a fear of fear itself, rather than an appropriate response to imminent danger. We could have a attack in the middle of shopping or dropping a child off at school, and such panic attacks become debilitating as we can then develop anxiety around doing normal things, the additional worry over possibly having an panic attack stresses our body further and the risk of actually having one increases.

Sometimes a panic attack can be triggered by events, noises, sights, smells or thought of previous trauma, and we react with panic as though we were still faced with the danger as it was at the time.

The symptoms of a panic attack are:

  • fast, pounding heartbeat
  • difficulty catching your breath
  • chest pain
  • flushing and sweating
  • feeling sick
  • trembling
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • needing to go to the toilet
  • feeling faint

Some people also experience a remote sensation, as though they were apart from their body and observing themselves, which while it may sound ‘better’ in some ways, actually is worse for those experiencing it.

Depression is often allied to anxiety. It is perfectly possible to feel depressed without being overly anxious or having panic attacks, but if we do suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, the likelihood is that we will feel depressed.

The good news is that it will not last indefinitely, and that there are things you can do to help yourself overcome it sooner rather than later. You are not going mad, and the nightmare will end and some day be just one of those memories. Lots of survivors of abuse and other trauma suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and we do live through it and enjoy life again the other side.

If you feel overwhelmed by the anxiety and as though you cannot cope or carry on, if you have urges to harm yourself (e.g. cutting yourself, starving yourself or making yourself sick after eating etc) or feel suicidal, please, please, please go and see your doctor. He/she may prescribe anti-depressants for you, which can help you short-term to just give yourself a break from feeling so awful and gain a little more emotional strength and balance, so that you are then in a better position mentally and emotionally to help yourself long-term or benefit from outside help if available.

In the following pages you will find several self-help ways of dealing with the anxiety, panic and depression, which many survivors have found helpful in alleviating their symptoms, though sometimes it is necessary to seek professional help from the doctor. The list is not exclusive but contains suggestions which are fairly easy to implement, are not too expensive and can be done by ourselves from our own home. These suggestions are NOT intended to replace professional advice and resources!

Now for some of the ways of helping yourself to get through this rough patch, and remember, it is just a rough patch, you do not need to live with anxiety, panic attacks and depression for the rest of your life!

In the following pages we will look at ways of coping with panic attacks, becoming more aware of the Self in the present, self-talk, self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques, as well as looking at how we can help our body along with supplements.

Next: Coping with panic attacks

© Hidden Hurt, 2011

Return from Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression to Domestic Violence Articles

Recommended Reading:

It's My Life Now - Starting over after an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Dugan and Roger R. Hock. has been found to be helpful by a number of people recovering from an abusive relationship. Have a look at the portions available online to decide whether it may be of help to you - recovery is a very personal issue.

The Self-esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi - recommended by workshop facilitators.

The Self-esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-esteem (Overcoming Common Problems) by Alison Waines - A very helpful work book with exercises to dip in and out of while recovering.


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