Most people wouldn’t associate anxiety with a trip to the hospital. But if left ignored, symptoms of anxiety can trigger an avalanche of disorders harming your mental health along the way.

That’s exactly what happened to me. After months of ignoring physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, it took a traumatic physical reaction to tell me: “You need to get your shit together, Tara.” This is when I realized I needed to address my anxiety issues head-on.

Learn to recognize the signs of your anxiety so you can build the skills necessary to fight back before reaching chaos.

I had just finished winding down for bed while reading a book during the workweek. Nothing out of the ordinary. I found myself drifting off to sleep when all of a sudden I woke up gasping for air. It was as if there were a boulder sitting on my chest and I couldn’t escape from under it.

Naturally, my mind jumped to the worst case scenario. I told my then fiancé that this was it. That I loved him and I was in fact, going to die. There was no getting out of this dilemma – whatever it was. The room was spinning, my chest was hurting, and my light-headedness had gotten to the point where even my vision was blurry. I was shaken all over and nearly shitting my pants.

We made it to the ER and I just sat in the car, still in a state of distress, refusing to go in. I kept saying, “No, no it’ll pass”. I guess I had a sneaking suspicion this was nothing more than an (extreme) panic attack. Another fifteen minutes or so had gone by with no relief, and I finally agreed to go in.

An ER at on a Tuesday in Los Angeles is quite bleak, I might add. No Hospital personnel seemed to be concerned that I was crying and my fiancé was in a state of terror repeating over and over to them that they needed to see me STAT.

Finally, they admit me and hooked me up to an EKG to monitor my heart. At this point, my legs were trembling uncontrollably. I felt helpless. Minutes felt like hours and finally, a doctor comes in and makes some smart-ass joke about heart-attacks. Then proceeds to ask me, with a grin on his face, “Are you dying?” Absolutely zero f*cking bedside manner, but I digress.

The point is, I was having a panic attack, not a heart attack. One study looked at a group of patients experiencing panic attack symptoms and the likelihood they would visit the Emergency Room. Over 77% of the patients studied had visited an ER with symptoms of chest pain following a panic attack. More common than I suspected.

The most frustrating part of this was that I didn’t see it coming. There was seemingly no way I would have predicted this. The anxiety demons were laughing in my face.

Hindsight is 20/20 though, right? Looking back on that experience, I realized all the stressors I was ignoring. I was no longer making a conscious decision to put my mental health first and I wasn’t being proactive in battling my anxiety. “I know it’s there, but if I ignore it, it’ll go away..” Unfortunately, no. The fact is, nobody else can feel or pinpoint your anxiety quite like you can.

So many times our mental roadblocks can present themselves in physical form. Whether it be lack of sleep, poor focus, dizziness, or an upset stomach – the signs are there. You may be reading this with a clenched jaw and raised shoulders. That’s your anxiety talking. Relax.

The takeaway? Pay attention to yourself. You are the first line of defense against preventing a panic attack – or at least understanding why you get them. I am thankful for this ER visit as it’s helped me on a path to better manage my anxiety. Since then, I’ve learned how my anxiety presents itself and how to better prevent this from happening in the future. Everyone’s symptoms are unique so don’t ignore your warning signs. Always better safe than sorry!

Check out this link to an informative article explaining the differences between heart attacks vs panic attacks.

Originally published at