I started writing this post on my phone just a couple of days after I had a panic attack. I don’t know exactly why I started writing, perhaps because I was frustrated, with the world, people in my life, life itself but ultimately with myself. But I won’t get to the actual situation that got me into this snowball because that’s way too personal.
The snowball effect that I got myself into, made me look up weird shit on the internet, made me think «fuck it»…but it also made me aware that perhaps people don’t understand me because I don’t let them in. It got me thinking that not a lot of my family and friends know a lot of this part of me. Guess they’re about to find out now if they read my blog posts, so… hey, hello fam!
I feel like anxiety is often perceived as “she’s stressed” or “mental breakdown” when in fact it is a mental health issue. Then there’s this shame, almost as if mental health should be a tabu subject. People just don’t talk about it, or if they do then i’m sorry but it’s not enough. And quite frankly I don’t understand why. Why wouldn’t you have a problem saying you have a thyroid problem but you’re ashamed of having anxiety? And don’t get me wrong I’m totally guilty of this too. I debated whether or not to post this. Why? Maybe I’m scared of people’s reactions, but I just don’t know.
Wrapping up this super long intro, I’ll be touching on what is anxiety and panic attacks. And I know that there’s a lot of scientific descriptions for anxiety and panic attack’s, but they can’t explain how you fell. This post comes from my heart, where I open up on how I know that I’m about to have an anxiety attack and how I cope before and after. We’ll talk about asking for help and telling someone how you feel and how they can help you.
Quick disclaimer, I’m in no way saying that this is how everyone feels, how you should cope and what you should do. We are all different, what I feel and what wakes up my anxiety can be totally different from yours. I’m just putting out there my experience in the hopes that it will help someone today or in the future.
What is anxiety? panic attacks?
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, something that comes and goes. However when anxiety persists for over 6 months, with no exposure to new stresses than it’s called an anxiety disorder. It can get bad to the point that it holds you from doing things you enjoy and in very extreme cases it can even stop you from leaving the house. Unfortunately, anxiety isn’t as simple as people think. It’s actually a part of other disorders such as panic attacks, phobias, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic syndrome, hypochondria, obsessive-compulsive and social anxiety disorder. Some can experience multiple disorders.
I bet you had a moment where you asked: “why me?!”. Unfortunately, to this date, researchers have not found an answer to this question. They think it’s a combination of factors such as brain chemistry, environment and genetics.
What does it feel like?
Some say that anxiety attacks are different from panic attacks. That an anxiety attack should stop after whatever is causing anxiety “goes away”, however, in my opinion, it doesn’t quite work like that. When anxiety kicks in, 8 out of 10 times I can control it with my breathing. But when I can’t control then it spirals into a panic attack.
As I’ve said before we are all different, and what I feel is probably completely different from what you feel. It can start by making your heart beat faster than usual, you might have thoughts that you can’t control, everything spirals and you lose the power of your own body. Usually, with me, I get some weird shakes and my breathing and heart become faster. And if I can’t control it that’s when I panic, when my brain decides to shut down and leave me to the wolves (panic attack aka wolves).
Most times I know its coming because apart from the heart racing I then start feeling like I can’t breathe, cry uncontrollably, get chest pain, feel like I need to vomit, my head spins and I always need to sit down because i feel safer that way. No panic attack feels the same each time, I’ve had times where I just sat on the floor with no reaction whatsoever as if my body was disconnected from my mind. It feels as if the world is moving but you’re frozen, however, your mind is still freaking out.
A panic attack can happen at any time of the day, you can experience them once and never ever have them again, but you can also experience them frequently. For some, when you have a panic attack something can trigger it again and you might have multiple in just a day. Personally, i have never experienced multiple in one day.
Unfortunately, it can last at least five minutes, but I can go up to 20 minutes (tends to be worst 10 minutes into it). Now, some will argue that theirs last longer but from experience, you tend to calm down a bit and just be anxious for a good while which can be confused as the same panic attack. Nevertheless, it can also mean that you’re getting into a second panic attack.
Talking about it
It’s hard to talk about I know. And it’s even harder for those who never experienced it to understand. I can tell you that some of the people closest to me, struggle to understand how it affects my life and some decisions that I make.
My parents were aware of my anxiety since I was younger, but it got worse since my grandad passed away. I believe that was my trigger, the feeling of losing someone is the worst feeling ever. They saw me having a panic attack for the first time on that day, however, I didn’t think they understood what was going on. I then had my panic attacks in “silence”, no one knew about them because I was scared of telling someone. Scared not because I didn’t trust them, but because I know I’m easier to be around when I am not anxious or panicking. I first told them when things got bad and I started seeing a therapist, I only told them when I really needed help.
My advice, don’t wait till it gets serious. Tell someone you trust with all your heart, someone with the ability to help you through it. From those who don’t understand, you’ll hear them saying that it’s all in your head, that no one can help you but yourself. That you create problems where they don’t exist, perhaps in their minds you’re just asking for attention. No, those people aren’t the right ones to talk to.
If someone tells you that, remind them that actually we don’t want to feel this way, we don’t want to cause any problems. In fact, for most of us, it takes a heck of a long time to ask for help. And by help I don’t mean looking for a therapist, I mean getting the courage to tell someone close how you feel. Not because we don’t trust you, but because we’re ashamed of ourselves. Because to us, there must be something really wrong to react to stressful or emotional things so differently from others.
So a quick PSA for those who don’t get it, if someone tells you about their anxiety, panic attacks or any other mental health problems for that matter, don’t take it as a cry for attention. Instead take it as a moment of trust, where you’ve just learned more about someone you love and how you can help them.
You can get help from your family or friends by talking and sharing your problems, still, you should find a therapist to talk to. Talk to your GP (your doctor) and see what they can do, they might be able to refer you to a public health therapist. Unfortunately, waiting lists for talking treatments can be very long. If you don’t have access to private care then there are charities that might offer therapy or be able to refer you to local services.
MIND INFO LINE UK
0300 123 3393; firstname.lastname@example.org ; Text: 86463
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
No Panic UK
08449 67 48 48
SOS VOZ AMIGA PORTUGAL
213544545 ; 912802669
(4pm – 12am)
These are the numbers i have access to, however i am sure that in whatever country you are there should be a contact number for help. Search online for it.
What helps me
As I’ve mentioned above, 8 out of 10 times i know what’s coming, therefore, I start doing my thing and control it. I start by taking slow deep breaths, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling, acknowledging every movement of my body. If I have time and I’m at home I’ll write stories on book that I bought last year, sometimes i draw, other times I just try to concentrate on something that will take my mind of what’s giving me anxiety.
For example, I created this fear of non-professional fireworks since I had an incident on New Years party 2017. Now, whenever I hear fireworks and I can’t see where they are, i start hearing them 10x louder and it feels as if they are about to hit me. Logically i know this is not true, but I can’t control the fear. It helps me, in this case, to talk about something else, go through the lyrics of a song in my mind or count from 100 backwards.
The first time I saw a therapist, she gave this “homework” of writing down my feelings every day. If I was ok I’d just write that I was ok, but if I had a panic attack I had to write what triggered it, the duration, the symptoms and what helped. In the beginning, i thought this was a whole lot of bullshit, but in the long run it helped me to understand my anxiety and to be able to look it in the eyes. This is how I learned what works for me, of course, I can’t control it every time but I’m still learning.
How can you help someone
I can’t imagine what it feels like being helpless, without knowing what to do. I’m sorry you have to feel that way too. I understand that you want them to think logically and help them find solutions. But, I’m sorry to tell you that it can be very distressing for someone who’s anxious and about to start having a panic attack.
- Remain calm, try not to freak out. They’ll be fine, they just need some reassurance.
- Help them breathe through it slowly and deeply. Sometimes it helps to count out loud backwards.
- Sit down with the person. Ie. it helps me when someone holds me (remember it might not work for everyone.).
- Remind them that you’re there, that you’re going to stay with them for as long as they need. Whether it’s over the phone or in presence.
- Be patient, let them do things at their own pace.
- Be supportive. After the panic attack is over, they’ll feel awful, like they were a burden. Reassurance is the key.
- If they don’t wanna talk about it after it happened, respect them.
If you’re reading this and you don’t suffer from what I’ve just talked about, I hope that at least it will help you support someone in the future. Know someone with anxiety? Remember to be there for them and try to understand them. Now, if you suffer from anxiety or any other mental health problem… know that you’re not alone, there’s help out there.
When it feels that life’s getting hard and you can’t take it anymore, remember you’re strong and you’ll be ok. To every door that closes, a window will open. At the end of the day, life’s pretty awesome to let it pass you by. Start living, learn from it, grow from the pain and you’ll see that life is fabulous. To every storm… there’s a rainbow!
Oh! And by the way, you’re pretty awesome!!