You're in school, walking down the hall, everything seems normal: students crawling sluggishly to class, backpacks hanging haphazardly off shoulders, the sound of lockers opening and shutting playing a monotonous symphony.
You're soaking in the trivialities of life when suddenly it hits, a feeling you've never felt before. Ice traces its way down your arms, almost numbing them from shoulder to fingertips. The air around you doesn't seem to enter your lungs, though you're sure that you are, in fact, breathing. Your pulse is a steady drumbeat in your ear - but does it sound normal? You're not so sure anymore.
Then a pain in your chest stops you short. You become simultaneously aware and uncertain of the space around you, because everything is moving so slowly. You're convinced that a fainting spell, or worse, is on the verge of happening. Fear courses through you like electricity, but strangely, you feel as though you shouldn't feel as worried as you do.
Friends notice your lack of conversation and ask if you're okay. Your mind jumbles its thoughts together in repetitive sentences: Something's wrong. Something's weird. I don't know what's -. You try to explain what's happening, but you can't form the words to describe the feeling. You're afraid, but you can't put a finger on why you're so worried. Freaked out, the friends guide you to the nearest bench and tell you to try to relax. Your sense of humor, still somewhat intact, laughs inside at the suggestion. The late bell comes and goes, leaving you and your friends in the empty hallway.
Slowly but surely the ice melts from your arms, your pulse normalizes, the air comes freely, the pain in your chest evaporates and your mind begins to function again. You try to piece together the last half-hour, or was it two minutes?
Later, from a doctor, you discover you had an anxiety attack.
Anxiety is a very real thing that can cause very real physical symptoms, and it's more than freaky. The symptoms can range in intensity, but the worst can feel like a heart attack.
A common misconception is that you have to be having anxious thoughts or feeling anxious emotionally to have an anxiety attack, but I know from experience this is not the case. They can come on at any moment without any cause, as well as be triggered by situations or feelings. Some people are afflicted so frequently they require medication and counseling. Some people use medication as the situation arises.
No matter what the origin or method of controlling, anxiety is not always the simple state you might claim to be in before you ask someone out on a date. On the most serious end of the scale, the National Institute of Mental Health says generalized anxiety disorder affects approximately 6.8 million American adults, or about 3.1 percent of people age 18 and older, though it can appear at any age.
So in the land of high-stress high school, it's a good idea to be compassionate and understanding; there should be no stigma to suffering from anxiety. You never know what a friend is going through, and she may not even have a clue about what's happening herself.
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A FEELING OF WORRY, NERVOUSNESS, OR UNEASE, TYPICALLY ABOUT AN IMMINENT EVENT OR SOMETHING WITH AN UNCERTAIN OUTCOME.