Today’s post is a bit of a serious one. I would like to talk about something that I’ve been struggling with for quite a long time, in hope of receiving some advice or helping someone else come to terms with this issue themselves. Before I begin this post, I’d like to add that this is quite a personal thing for me to write about and is something I’ve dealt with for five years now.
If you’re reading this and you struggle with anxiety I’m hoping that this can help you in some way. Alternatively, if you are reading this and you know someone who struggles with anxiety I hope I can help give you a better understanding.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. And different levels of anxiety lie in us all the time. From a simple thing like “Oh no, I’ve got an exam/work tomorrow” to something a lot more nerve wracking like having a medical test at the doctors or having a job interview. Although anxiety is a normal thing to experience and it lives in all of us, it affects people in different ways. When we’re stressed our anxiety levels are much higher and some of us become a lot more sensitive to it.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety is much more than just being “shy”, and is in fact a type of complex phobia. This type of phobia has a disruptive or disabling impact on a persons life. It can severely affect your confidence and self-esteem, interfere with relationships as well as performance at work or school. It’s literally having an intense fear and worry over simple everyday activities, such as:
- Meeting strangers.
- Talking in groups or starting conversations.
- Speaking on the phone.
- Eating or drinking with company.
- Talking to authority figures.
Many people sometimes worry about social situations, but someone with social anxiety will worry excessively about them before, during and after. They worry they might be doing or saying something they think will be embarrassing or humiliating.
Extremely high levels of anxiety, can, in a lot of people cause panic attacks. Whether you are aware of your anxiety or not.
What is a Panic Attack?
A Panic Attack is a sudden feeling of dread and an overwhelming feeling of fear. It’s the urge to find the nearest exit and escape from whatever situation you are in. It feels like the whole room is closing in on you and you’re suddenly trapped between four walls with everybody staring at you and smothering you. And before you know it, before there’s even time to catch a breath your body is releasing adrenaline and preparing you for “fight or flight” mode. Something our brain is programmed to do in a life or death situation. You need adrenaline for a fight in order to be strong, and you need adrenaline for flight in order to run fast and get away.
What happens during a Panic Attack?
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into “fight or flight” mode in response to something you think is a threat. As your body tries to take in more oxygen your breathing quickens. Your body also releases adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up. Blood is diverted to the muscles, making you pale and light headed. This also causes you to shake. There’s a number or different physical and emotional sensations that may affect you during a panic attack.
These may include:
- Shortness of breath, struggling to breathe.
- Very rapid heartbeat.
- Feeling faint or dizzy.
- Sweating or shivering.
- Feeling sick.
- Feeling smothered and claustrophobic.
- Being extremely emotional.
- Uncontrollable crying.
- Overwhelming sense of fear.
- Sense of unreality.
Panic Attacks can come on very quickly and most of the time they can happen for no reason at all. Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. Some people report attacks lasting for up to an hour, but they are likely experiencing one attack after another, or a high level of anxiety after the initial attack.
I experienced my first panic attack when I was in my third year of High School (Year 9) in 2012. I was just turning fifteen and at the time I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was a panic attack. By the time Year 8 had came around I was being bullied frequently and I was going through a lot of things in my personal life. I started to become angry and rebel against basically everything. I got to a point where I didn’t really care for much and was truly unhappy. When Year 9 came along I completely started skipping a majority of my lessons to avoid everything.
I remember my first panic attack as though it was yesterday, and I think I always will. It is something that has impacted the last 5 years of my life so much that it would be hard to forget.
I was having a rough day at school, to be honest that was nothing out of the ordinary. I used to talk to this one teacher when things weren’t okay. I remember seeing her about 4 times this one day. I told her that I couldn’t deal with everything that was going on. I told her I was frustrated and I couldn’t understand what I had actually done to make these people hate me so much. I then went on to tell her that the way they treat me makes me hate myself. And after hearing all of that she told me to “ignore them” and “rise above it”. It was at that point that I felt really lonely and really sad. Third period came along and everything and everyone started getting on my nerves, I had this sudden urge to just get my things and leave. Which one again, wasn’t out of the ordinary. I paced around the school buildings for a while, but I knew sooner or later I was going to get caught by someone. To avoid that and to pull myself together I went to the bathroom. I splashed my face with water, and I redone my hair, trying to do all I could to compose myself.
Out of no where I suddenly began to feel hot and I became lightheaded. At first I was convinced that maybe the air-conditioning just wasn’t on, so I took off my cardigan trying all I could to cool myself down. It wasn’t long after, that I realised something didn’t feel right I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I then locked myself in a cubical and I had this overwhelming feeling of complete fear in the pit of my stomach, my heart started racing really fast and I felt sick to my stomach. I fell to the floor and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t have a clue what was happening. Everything went blurry and I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I genuinely thought I was dying.
To top it all off no one was around for me to call, I literally froze. I was like this for about 15 minutes frantically trying to catch my breath whilst sobbing, hoping somebody would walk into the bathroom. After I managed to pick myself up, I called my Mum still in tears begging her to come pick me up. She didn’t understand what was going on, and at that point even I didn’t know I was having a panic attack. Either way, she came and got me. I wasn’t bothered about getting into trouble for leaving, I just had to get out. And once I was out I felt like I could breathe again.
We drove up to the beach and I remember feeling completely drained, like my head was just about floating above the water. I tried explaining, but nobody understood it. It wasn’t long after that incident that I started getting a lot more panic attacks. I’d have them before school, during and after. I started putting up fights in the mornings, I cried, screamed, kicked off. I basically did everything I could do to avoid it. I started skipping every single one of my lessons, and most of the time I’d just walk out of school. Myself and my Mum had to attend so many meetings about my education and I felt like more pressure was put upon me. Teachers weren’t a lot of help to me at all, and everyone sort of brushed the problem under a rug. I eventually stopped socialising out of school too. I didn’t see my friends or my family. I had just got into a really bad place.
By the time Year 10 came along, I completely dropped out of school. My Mum stopped putting up the fight to make me go in and the school basically named me the “lost cause”.
Early 2013 came along, and I was suddenly hit with the news that my best friend had committed suicide. I shut down and I just wanted to crawl under a rock and be on my own. I locked myself away in my room a lot because I didn’t know how to deal with things, and eventually I got severely depressed. Something that I will eventually talk in more detail about in the future. I didn’t do my GCSE’s and my Mum was taken to court twice to pay fines because I left education. My family sat me down and gave me a lot of lectures, talking about how I need to get my life together. But at that point, I didn’t care. I had countless amounts of meetings with Educational Advisors, trying to get me back into education. But people were ignoring the real problem and every time something came up, I completely shut off. I turned down so many opportunities, a child care course and a music college. Two things I would of loved to of done. It took me two years before I could bring myself to do anything.
At the beginning of 2015 I was transferred to a Mental Health Clinic where I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety and Depression. Every fortnight I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help me understand things, to talk about how I was feeling and to find ways of coping. In the Summer I managed to do my Maths and English GCSE’s with a course I was told about. I passed them which I’m proud of myself for doing.
Since then I haven’t done anything new at all and most of the time I feel stuck. I’m turning 20 this year and I don’t know what I want to do with my life, yet I feel like everyone else I know has it figured out. This is something I’m currently working on. This year I’ve came across many obstacles. In terms of my mental health this year has been a big one for me since 2012. I’ve been challenged with my anxiety which has been hard at times. I also finally understand that my anxiety and depression are very much linked into the same cycle. For example, when I’m depressed, I get extremely anxious. When I’m anxious, I get more depressed. With my anxiety being challenged, my mood has had it’s changes. I’ve always been afraid to ask for help but I knew I had to. I don’t ever want it getting as bad as it once was. With that being said, I’m currently on medication for Anxiety and Depression and I have two types of Therapy each fortnight.
I have good days and bad days. I just have to figure out a route that’s going to benefit me in the long run. There’s days I get frustrated with myself, or even peoples obnoxious comments. JUST GET OVER IT. YOU’RE OVERREACTING. STOP MAKING EXCUSES. I would love to be able to go out to social gatherings with friends and family, I’m 19 years old, I’d much rather get all dressed up, put on a pair of pretty heels and go out and have fun. But the reality is, it isn’t going to be like that. So many things have happened within the course of 5 years and a majority of them I’ve blocked out. I’m coming to terms with the fact that in order to get on with the rest of my life, I have to let those things go. But, for now in this point of time I’m proud of the smaller things I’ve managed to overcome. I’m trying my best and I deserve to be proud of that. Thankfully I haven’t experienced a panic attack in over a year.
I may have a Mental Illness, but I will never let it define me.
How can I help someone who suffers with Panic Attacks?
I found a list of suitable things by Zoella a while back. It’s helped people know what to do when I’m in a panic myself.
1. Remain calm. There is nothing worse than being with someone who is freaking out whilst they are, they will never calm down if you are flapping about like a headless chicken.
2. Do not be forceful. Be patient and accepting. Do not settle for them panicking and being affected alone.
3. Let them do things at their own pace.
4. Don’t make assumptions about what the panicker needs, ask them.
5. Find something positive in every experience. If the affected person is only able to go partway to a particular goal, such as the cinema or out for coffee, consider that as an achievement rather than a failure.
6. Remember that they don’t choose to be this way. Do not show any disappointment or annoyance when panic strikes or if they don’t feel like they can’t do something.
7. In a panic DON’T say: “Relax. Calm down. Don’t be anxious. Let’s see if you can do this (i.e., setting up a task for the affected person). What should we do next? Don’t be ridiculous. You have to stay. Don’t be a coward. Pull yourself together. Stop being silly, what’s wrong with you?”
Instead, DO say: “You can do it no matter how you feel. I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe slow and low. Stay in the present. It’s not the place that’s bothering you, it’s the thought. I know what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous. You are courageous. Remember that panic attacks only last a maximum of 20 minutes.”
8. Do not try to distract them with stupid questions. We don’t want to say the alphabet backwards or talk about our day, it just highlights the fact that we are having a panic attack, thus creating more panic.
9. Be supportive and reassuring. After a panic attack, the person can feel down, depressed, angry, insecure and have very low self-esteem. It’s your job to help them feel better about themselves and to let them know you are there.
I hope I covered everything, and I hope if you know someone who suffers from panic attacks this has given you a better understanding. I also want to say that if you are someone who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and you are feeling down and depressed about the way it has affected your life, please remember that..
You are not alone, panic attacks are VERY common, and although terrifying, will not kill you.
Don’t let your attacks ruin your confidence or dent your self-esteem. You’re so strong and I am so proud of you. Battling your own mind everyday takes a lot of courage. Remember, you CAN stop them with the right treatment and techniques. Do not force yourself to go somewhere you don’t feel comfortable, you and your health are far more important than keeping someone else happy.