Mixture of chronic and acute stress; bottling things up and trying to carry on regardless - A reader's story
Like others who have posted, I have a bad habit of bottling things up and forgetting to be assertive as well. Also, I have had difficulties that have gone on for so long that I tend to regard them as normal without taking them seriously.
I won't go into detail here as it's too long and complicated, but for a number of reasons, I find myself living in an area of the country that I didn't choose myself, far away from most of my family, and doing a job that doesn't really suit my abilities or personality and hardly offers any career progression. I was put under a lot of pressure at a young age by various family members to take this course in life, and it feels like I'm trapped and cannot see a way to change course without a lot more stress arising. Therefore, I have always tried to soldier on and try to make the best of things, however I have never felt settled and this has had an impact on other areas of my life. For example, I live in a bedsitter without a lease because I cannot tolerate the stress of committing to buy a property or even taking on a rental as any house move throws up traumatic memories and also reminds me that my life is a mess. I suspect I may have developed a form of post traumatic stress disorder as I experience panic attacks when trying to cope with any form of change (and I lost a job recently due to being so stressed out in the first couple of weeks). Anyway, that is the chronic stress situation in the background and it has existed for many years now.
It doesn't take an awful lot of other stress (in the eyes of others) to trigger a panic attack for me, but there are usually a number of short-term and longer-term factors arising in combination. For example, I work in an open office environment, but I am an introvert and sometimes struggle with the lack of privacy and the need to put on a public act. I have a long-term overeating problem, but last year decided to improve my health and ditched the overeating. I lost weight and have received compliments for this, however overeating was my way of coping with stress and now I'm feeling an additional pressure, that others will notice if I regain the weight. My mother is elderly and I worry about her as we live far apart. My accommodation situation has become more uncertain, yet I still don't feel able to deal with a move and have a lot of personal belongings to downsize.
The most recent stressors which have triggered the panic attacks, have been subtle and continuing pressure from a close friend who keeps trying to steer me into a deeper relationship with him and gets really upset if I want time to myself. We are going on a day trip tomorrow, but all of a sudden I have developed a dread of going out and fear that I won't survive the day. Our tickets are booked and not flexible. Also, my work has become very repetitive and dull lately, and I find negative thoughts creeping in after just a few minutes, with no escape from them; this usually culminates in low mood and a panic attack or two - which I struggle to hide due to being in the open plan office! Aargh.
In summary, I think that it's so important to recognise that chronic stress, and also traumatic events, can contribute to panic attacks in the longer term and particularly when other stressors arise. It's easy to make the mistake of taking chronic stress for granted because it's been around for such a long time, especially when others including loved ones don't understand. It's also easy to forget the importance of being assertive in personal and work relationships and to try to avoid bottling things up; easily said, much more difficult in practice!