Stressful life events are a normal, everyday part of South African life. We move, we change jobs, we worry about crime, education and our economy Ė we deal with stress all the time. But stress can lead to an increase in panic attacks and anxiety, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). In this article, Janine Shamos highlights the current landscape of stress-related diseases in South Africa and offers the symptoms to help identify a panic attack.
by Janine Shamos
For more information on talks and workshops, please call Cassey at SADAG on 011 262 6396 or Janine Shamos on 082 338 9666, or email Janine.email@example.com.
Think of it like an elastic band – the tighter you pull it, and the more you try to fit inside it, the more likely it is to snap. If you have high levels of stress, you are more likely to feel anxious. Any sudden increase in that stress – like a rise in petrol price or a two-hour traffic jam - and panic attacks become a whole lot more likely. “Your mind is constantly monitoring your emotional balance to see when you need your fight-or-flight response,” says Johannesburg-based psychologist Robyn Rosin. “When there is a subconscious threat, your mind triggers this survival instinct – which manifests as a panic attack.” You are probably not literally in a life-threatening situation, but because your general levels of anxiety are so high, your brain sees a threat. To stop panic attacks, we need to loosen your grip on that elastic band.
A frequent symptom of that stress is anxiety. “I have days when I’ll be driving and I’ll read a headline on a street pole and I feel myself spinning out of control,” says 33-year-old panic disorder sufferer, Laura. “I feel nauseous and shaky, my hands start sweating, and I often have to pull over so I don’t crash, because my legs are trembling.”
Laura’s spike in anxiety symptoms is clearly related to the stress she feels, but does that anxiety dissipate when the headlines are positive? No, says SADAG. “Rather than a steep increase then tapering off of panic symptoms, what we’re finding is that people who suffer from anxiety are having their symptoms worsened over time by stress,” says SADAG’s Cassey Chambers (0800 21 22 23). Panic attacks may not be solely a reaction to a stressful event but may instead be the result of an accumulation of daily stress.
The South African Stress and Health (SASH) study, conducted by Prof. Dan Stein and Prof. Soraya Seedat, revealed high 12-month and lifetime prevalence estimates of psychiatric disorders in South Africa. The most prevalent were anxiety disorders, rated highest at 15.8%. Alcohol abuse is very high at 11.4%, which was of particular concern, as South Africa has the highest figures in the world after the Ukraine. “Most of us can relate to being stressed; we use unhealthy mechanisms like drinking and eating too much to cope,” says Rosin. But few of us take healthy, proactive steps to manage our stress appropriately. We wait until we are at breaking point before we admit something has to change.
“Treatment rates for those with psychiatric disorders are low in comparison to those with general medical disorders,” says Prof. Stein. »