<3 Quick disclaimer: Every persons experience with anxiety is different – this post is going to be talking about my own personal experience, and what advice I’d give someone going through a similar thing, however of course I’m not a doctor or a therapist or any kind of medical expert so please speak to your doctor if you’re struggling with anxiety.
This is quite an odd post for me to write as I normally try to keep everything on my blog nice and upbeat and easy-reading, but recently more and more people are becoming more open about topics surrounding mental health which is so refreshing to see as the more we talk about it – the more the stigma will fade.
So that takes me on to where I come into this, when I was 15 years old (five whole years ago!!!) I had a panic attack in the middle of the standing zone at a Rihanna concert and ended up sat in the first aid room with a paramedic while my all time favourite song of 2011 was on – We Found Love, if you were wondering. But I had no idea that it was a panic attack, at one point I actually thought I was having a heart attack. I always have been quite the drama queen.
After that I didn’t really think about it again and I got on with my life without giving it much more than a second thought, I mean I’ve always been a worrier and a bit of a stresshead, but nothing that affected my day to day life.
This was the case until I turned 17 and went in to my final year of sixth form. Life suddenly got a bit – weird. Nothing that I’ve ever been able to pin point happened or changed but suddenly panic attacks became a daily occurence.
First it happened in a restaurant, then in classrooms at college, then in exam halls, shops, house parties and even my bedroom! Basically, for anyone that’s never had a panic attack, they come in all different shapes and forms, but for me basically the first thing I realise is my breath, it becomes shallow and I find it very hard to catch, next is usually my heartbeat, my automatic thing once I notice my breath becoming shallow is to press my hand across my chest to feel how fast my heart is pounding, then chest tightness, pins and needles in my whole body, feeling the urge to either run or cry depending on where I am, and the hardest one to explain – just not feeling RIGHT. I usually feel really spaced out like I’m not actually there, or like I’m really drunk, which mixed with the fact it feels like your hearts about to rip out of your chest is not a good combo.
This kind of reaction, a panic attack, may seem somewhat rational if I was trapped in a really stressful situation, however, not once have I ever happened to have a panic attack when the situation really was stressful or where there was a real reason to panic.
For me, the most difficult part, which is a really common symptom that comes with panic attacks, is the fear of having a panic attack, therefore doing everything in my power to avoid certain situations, be it a specific room where I’d once had a panic attack or going in to a super crowded shop, etc.
This avoiding of situations only adds to the fear in the long run and therefore the panic inside of you grows and grows until you’re starting to seriously miss out on important things purely because you’re fearing the fact that you might panic, despite the fact you know there’s nothing at all to actually panic about.
This can be one of the hardest things to explain to your friends/family/teachers etc if they’ve never had a panic attack before. I used to find it quite embarrassing to say that I was too scared to go into my health and social room in college incase I had a panic attack because I knew they’d be thinking… it’s just a classroom? And this just added to the pressure and therefore added to the anxiety surrounding the room, making it a much bigger deal in my mind that it was.
Eventually, just before my 18th birthday I plucked up the courage to go to the doctors, I went in bright red in the face and all blotchy with a stress rash, hoping the stress of the appointment would be worth having a solution to a horrible situation. Long story short, the doctor took one look at me and said “sounds like asthma”. He completely disregarded any of the non physical symptoms, such as feeling panicky, stressed, restless and made me feel like an absolute idiot, sending me away with an inhaler to try.
Thankfully, after a week of huffing and puffing into an inhaler every time I felt stressed (for the record it did NOTHING), I went back, this time to a different doctor who made me feel 100 times better and not like a complete and utter drama queen. She told me what I was experiencing was anxiety, panic attacks and panic disorder (panicking about having panic attacks), she told me it was very common and the three generally came hand in hand. After going through different options of medication she prescribed me with some beta blockers to stop the physical symptoms and referred me to a Talking Therapies for CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).
The therapy was a ten week course of sessions around 50 minutes long, the therapist is of course trained in getting to the bottom of what’s going on. At the time I was referred the waiting list was soooo long so I went for the Skype therapy sessions available instead. For me this didn’t quite work as well as I expect it would have if I was face to face with a therapist but we did identify some triggers. For me they are:
<3 crowded rooms (e.g. Small tight spaces with lots of people in)
<3 places that are difficult to leave, or will attract a lot of attention to me if I do want to leave (e.g. Exam halls, assemblies etc)
<3 arguments (I hate confrontation I’m an absolute wuss!)
<3 being taken out of my comfort zone
<3 presentations/ public speaking (any situation where I’m on the spot or centre of attention)
I’m still trying to figure out my triggers as a lot of the time for me panic attacks happen out of no where so this is still an area I need to work on.
I’ve also tried hypnotherapy where I learnt breathing techniques that help you to relax on days where you just have that horrible unexplainable anxious feeling for no reason. I also take a daily, slow release beta blocker to try to minimise those anxious days.
A lot of physical symptoms can occur too that you may not link with anxiety, such as feeling faint, chest pains, lightheaded, sleeplessness and feeling spaced out, sometimes these can even occur when you feel like you’re totally on top of life and nothing at all is stressing you out or getting to you but subconciously that horrible little anxious part of your brain is going crazy without you even knowing – this is something I learnt very recently!
So, now what? If you’re reading and you feel you relate to this post here’s what you can do:
<3 Speak to someone! Whether it’s a parent, friend, partner, teacher or doctor, just don’t try to take it all on yourself.
<3 Go to a doctor. And if you get a crappy one who makes you feel like an idiot go to another, and another and another til you find a one that understand you and helps you.
<3 Take time out. When you’re going through an anxious time everything can feel super overwhelming, take time to yourself, phone in sick at work/uni/school, your mental health is just as important as your physical.
<3 Do not feel alone. I know SO many people who experience panic attacks, it is sooooo much more common than you probably first think. That’s the good thing about more people speaking about their anxiety – it makes people who are suffering in silence see they aren’t alone, nor are they crazy, dramatic, weird, pathetic or anything else they may be telling themselves.
<3 Push yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again… the feeling you get once you’ve done something you didn’t think you’d be able to do is AMAZING. Recently I went to my first blogging event and I was so proud of myself for not chickening out (even if I do have a stress rash in most of the photos!)
Things I do to make myself better when I’m having a day where I feel anxious are:
<3 Watch something comforting. This sounds odd but certain programs and films make me feel really calm when I’m stressed, friends is my biggest comfort of all times. And The Holiday – maybe that had something to do with Jude Law?? 😉
<3 Comfort eat! But not too much. I often find that a nice bar of chocolate can make me feel 50% better when I’m feeling down, however I try not to binge too much as then I just end up feeling like a slob (oops).
<3 Get a good night sleep. Sounds like an obvious one but I am WAY more prone to being panicky when I’ve had a rubbish night sleep or if I’m super hungover. Make sure you get your eight hours in!!
I know this post is super rambly and long but I would love to have been able to help someone who is going through a similar thing. When I was at my most anxious I read a lot online and found other peoples coping mechanisms helpful.
As I said, anxiety is sooooooo common and it’s sad to think that people daren’t speak out in fear of being judged. I still find it quite awkward to talk about but the older i get the less embarrassed I feel and I hope that in time more and more people will share their experiences and feel more confident to do so.
Please let me know in the comments your thoughts and your own experiences!
Thanks for reading,