Let's Talk: Anxiety&Panic Attacks

Friday, 30 June 2017

Quick note: if you hadn't guessed already by the post title, I'm discussing anxiety and panic attacks. If you're sensitive to it, you may not want to read. I should also warn you that this is a chunky paragraph-heavy post so grab a cuppa and get comfy.
It might sound ironic but I'm actually a private person so writing about something so personal and putting it out there for all to see is quite daunting. I want to post this though. I think it's a really important subject and I'm passionate about talking about things that are more of a taboo. It makes people feel more comfortable about being open.

Although people have talked about it on blogs or YouTube before, everyone's experiences are different so I just want to give my two pennies worth (is that the saying?). Reading books, blogs and watching Youtube videos has helped me to feel less lonely so I know for sure that hearing that others feel the same way as you can have a positive effect. I think it's great that people are talking about it more and drawing attention to it but it's still not talked about enough and I think it's majorly misunderstood. I want my blog to be somewhere I can talk about difficult/serious topics and this one is close to my heart and could even help someone in some way.

What Is Anxiety?
Oh the big dreaded A word. I'm sure you've probably heard of it before but I suppose I should probably explain what anxiety is. It can be complex to understand if you haven't experienced it before. Although even if you have, you'll never fully understand someone else's because it affects everyone in different ways and to different degrees. Anxiety is a fairly normal emotion that everyone is bound to feel from time to time. The feeling of dread for your exam, that fear you get when public speaking or the sick feeling you have in your stomach when you're at the dentist. It's a natural emotion to feel. 
However for some people, including me, anxiety can become a part of your everyday life and is brought on by things that shouldn't really make you feel anxious. Often there isn't even a cause or reason to feel anxious but your days are clouded with unsettling feelings. Some days I just wake up with it. You know that it's becoming a problem when it makes basic everyday tasks difficult to do, if your mind is constantly worrying about things or if you're experiencing regular panic attacks. Anxiety is debilitating; It stops you functioning normally. It shatters your confidence and self esteem, often prevents you from sleeping and generally just makes you feel utter shite. It's no wonder anxiety and depression are so closely linked. When you have anxiety, every task feels much bigger and more frightening than it actually is. Something as simple as answering the phone/door or ordering something in a cafe. To someone who hasn't experienced it before that must sound bizarre or dramatic but it's very real. You can make the smallest of things seem like the biggest hurdles and manage to convince yourself you're incapable of doing anything. It goes beyond self-doubt and self-deprecation. 

What Is A Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are quite frankly horrendous. It's like a burst of anxiety and adrenaline all at once. The only way I can describe them is that they're an intense rush of energy that you feel like you can't control. Mine are usually brought on by places and situations where there are busy crowds but I've experienced them in social situations and even in my house where there's no obvious cause too. Places like restaurants, town, public transport, shops, school, and hairdressers are all places where I've had them. 
When you're having a panic attack you experience quite a lot of physical symptoms. Your heart races, you sweat, feel faint, shake, hyperventilate, feel sick, have tense muscles and feel dizzy. Of course, there's no right or wrong way to have a panic attack but those are what I experience. In a way it feels like the room is closing in on you and your first reaction is to just get out as fast as you can. It's called fight or flight. It's a useful thing our bodies do in some instances but for some people it's triggered unnecessarily. I always worry that everyone can see that I'm panicking and the thought of everyone watching and judging me just makes me panic more because I feel like the spotlight is on me. 

As well as the physical side, your mind races too. I know it sounds melodramatic but you honestly feel like you're dying. When I had my first one I thought I was having a heart attack and that there was something seriously wrong with my health. I remember googling the symptoms of heart disease the next day because I had no idea what happened. I was 13 and at a friends house; it wasn't really a party, it was more of a fancy dress gathering just to watch Eurovision (of all the places to have a panic attack it's in a house full of people dressed as Bonnie Tyler). 
There were only about 15 people at this 'gathering' and it was at my friends house so everyone there were friends of her family. It was all so sudden because I'd felt relatively comfortable and relaxed until everyone piled into the living room to watch all the performances. I remember sitting there and just feeling so on edge and alert. I was so confused because I knew there was nothing scary about the situation but I had this intense feeling of fear and I felt so smothered and claustrophobic. It got to the point where I couldn't cope with sitting there any longer and just felt like I needed to leave. I ended up in the bathroom in tears feeling like I was going to stop breathing or vomit but thankfully it only lasted about 10 minutes. Luckily, it's rare for panic attacks to last more than 20 minutes so it will pass eventually even though in the moment it's a really scary situation. I didn't tell anyone about it afterwards; I was so confused and exhausted and I was just relieved it was over. It didn't happen again for a while so I just thought it was a blip or a one off. It wasn't though.

Since that very first panic attack back in 2013 I've struggled really badly with anxiety and panic attacks. It's become something I deal with and think about everyday. I didn't tell close friends for a long time because I didn't really understand it so I didn't know what I'd tell people; "I'm scared of going to restaurants and the hairdressers" I thought I would've sounded insane. I didn't have any real understanding or awareness of anxiety either so I eventually came to the conclusion that it was just a teenage thing that everyone dealt with. A phase maybe. As time went on I learnt to just live with it but I didn't realise that I was actually making things worse for myself. I used school as a distraction and I really thought that if I pretended everything was fine it would just fade away and I'd grow out of it.
I stopped going to places where I'd had panic attacks and avoided any situations where I thought I'd feel anxious. I missed school assemblies as often as possible and even started hiding in the school toilets for some lessons. Looking back, I've missed out on quite a lot over the years. I'd boycott birthday events, avoid going out to certain places with friends and slowly became comfortable with just staying at home because it was my safe place. I fell into this mindset of thinking it's just easier to not go to places because that way I wouldn't ruin it for anyone if I did have a panic attack and need to leave. I hadn't been to a big supermarket in nearly 2 years until recently. Every time I step foot in one I can't function. My throat feels like it's closing up and I can't breathe. My legs turn to jelly and I think I'll faint so I usually end up leaving. I know there's nothing scary about Tesco but my lovely brain associates it with panic and distress.

It's really restricted me over the years but it all came to a head throughout 2016. Everything got on top of me and I was in a position where I couldn't carry on the way I was. I was feeling really down all the time and didn't feel myself. I started to really open up to people and reached out for help and it's changed a lot for me. I was able to do my GCSE exams in a smaller room, because whenever I'd done my exams in the gym I was always too anxious to focus on the exam paper and felt suffocated by the number of people. There were quite big changes happening in 2016 that intensified my anxiety too. For a while I was 100% sure I wasn't going to prom or going to Centre Parcs with friends because I knew I'd feel uncomfortable. Although they weren't entirely smooth experiences, I'm so glad I went because I would've regretted not trying it. Some people wouldn't even think twice about doing those things but they were actually big hurdles for me. It made getting a job impossible too. I really wanted to get a job for a long time but this was holding me back. I recently got to a point where I felt more ready and able to manage it. Things can change but it just takes time.

The biggest thing that's happened, that was kind of the final straw, was deciding to leave sixth form. Throughout summer I wasn't really going out much and I guess I was just ignoring everything that was going on. My panic attacks were more frequent and intense and I started having them in the house or family member's houses. My safe spaces were invaded. When sixth form rolled around in September I was terrified. Obviously everyone gets nervous going to a new college but I was anxious for completely different reasons. Would there be crowds? What if I have a panic attack or pass out and no one knows what to do? 
Everyone I knew had gone to college but I decided that sixth form was better for me because it was smaller and I thought it would be easier for me to handle my anxiety there. This clearly wasn't the right way to think about things and I know now I wasn't ready or in the right head space for it. I didn't want to admit it that though. I wanted it to just be plain sailing and do my A levels without this being an issue. 
The first day of sixth form was rough. I had multiple panic attacks throughout the day that came in waves. I'd never experienced that before and I think the fact I was in an unfamiliar place with people I didn't know made it worse. Long story short, the morning of my second day I missed the bus and had another major panic attack. I think it was all the anxiety that had built up because of knowing I had to go back and have it all happen again. Missing the bus just tipped me over the egde. I don't even remember the walk home from the bus stop because I was in full panic mode but when I got home it all just came flooding out and I was adamant I couldn't cope with going back. After days of chats with my parents I came to the decision that the best thing for me was to take a year out. 

I wasn't keen on the idea of taking the year out but I know now that it was the right decision. A levels are stressful enough but dealing with all of this on top of it would've been too much to deal with. I started CBT therapy with a psychologist 6 months ago and I've been focused on working on everything. I've learnt ways of dealing with panic and testing my anxiety by going to places I'd been avoiding for years to build my confidence. It's also meant I've been able to have access to support for depression, and medication which has really improved things. After so long of feeling like my life was on hold I slowly feel like things are moving in the right direction. It's not easy; it takes time and I have my bad days but who doesn't, that's all part of it. Without going to these CBT sessions or taking anti-depressants I wouldn't have felt ready to get a job or felt comfortable enough to step outside my comfort zone and try new things. Looking back to how things were a year ago, I've come a long way. I've learnt a lot and I've made progress even if it doesn't always feel that way.
For a long time all of this would've been something I was ashamed or embarrassed to talk about but I've come to realise it's really not. It's so common and the stigma is all wrong. There's no shame in it at all. I can't stress that enough. It doesn't mean that person is weak or a failure. It doesn't change who they are too, they're the same person but this is just another part of them. 

How To Help Someone You Know
If you know someone with anxiety or who has panic attacks I know it can be hard to know what to do. I've sat with my parents and friends trying to explain things as best I can and they don't understand but that's just something you have to try and accept, as difficult as it may be. You don't need to understand it to be able to just be there and support someone. You might feel frustrated because you can't do anything to change what they're feeling but believe it or not, just being there and sticking by them actually means a lot. Encourage them to talk about it to let them know you care and want to try to understand. One thing you really shouldn't do is have a "tough love" approach. I've come across a few people who have this attitude and it just does more damage than good. Telling someone to just "push yourself" or "switch it off" is so ignorant and thoughtless and can make the person feel even more guilty and down about how they feel. Try and be patient. If they decide they can't go somewhere because of their anxiety try to be understanding and supportive, not judgemental. I don't expect people to have all the answers or to give me advice, because they haven't experienced it, but knowing people are there to listen means the world. It's likely the person will feel like a burden or a inconvenience by opening up to people so reassuring them that that's not the case is important. 

Helping someone while they're having a panic attack usually differs depending on the person but there are a few things that you should and shouldn't do that are just common sense. Firstly I'd say keep calm. Don't draw attention to the situation or the fact that the person is panicking because it can make them even feel worse. The thought of everyone staring at me makes me panic more so it's best to just take them out of the situation to a quiet place to calm down. As harsh as it sounds, don't talk too much. It might just be me but I hate fuss and people trying to talk to distract me because I end up feeling really suffocated. Give them some space. Try not to smother them. Let them handle it in their own way but don't leave them on their own. They may have their own techniques to deal with panicking but I definitely feel comforted and safer knowing someone's there with me. It might be a good idea to have a conversation with them beforehand to ask them what they think you should and shouldn't do in the situation. For example, I know people who like to use those Bach calming sprays when they're having a panic attack or need a drink of water whereas I prefer not to because I feel like I can't swallow. Some people with anxiety who have panic attacks develop safety behaviours so you could ask them about whether they have them too. That's something they have that makes them feel less likely to panic. For example, any time I go to the cinema or theatre I have to sit on an aisle seat. It makes me feel more comfortable because I know that if I do have a panic attack I'm not trapped and have an escape route. Everyone is different though.


Tips for people with Anxiety
1) Firstly, and I think most importantly, remember that you're not alone. For so long I felt like I was going mad because I thought it was just me but if you talk to people and even have a look online you'll see that it's more common than you think. I can't stress enough how important it is to talk to someone. Whether it's a friend or family member it really does help. I know how scary it is telling people your thoughts when you don't quite understand them yourself but it's a weight off your shoulders once you do. 

2) If things are really bad and it's stopping you from functioning normally, it might be a good idea that you see your Doctor. I have to say though, don't be disheartened if you have a disappointing experience with a doctor; keep seeing different ones. I saw 2 very unsympathetic doctors before I found a really helpful one who actually took it seriously and understood. 

3) Something that I've found really helpful is writing things down. Starting a diary/journal is actually really handy for getting things off your chest without the feelings of guilt by telling a real person. At first I wasn't fond of the idea and thought it was a bit cringey but just remember that you're the only one that will read it so it don't feel embarrassed.

4) Doing your research can actually make you feel a bit better about things. Well it has for me anyway. I've read a few books about panic attacks and anxiety and being able to relate to people is so helpful. In therapy, I was given a sheet that had a diagram of everything that happens in your body during a panic attack. Learning and understanding what the symptoms mean, and why they're happening, can make things seem so much less scary.

5) You shouldn't feel embarrassed or ashamed about how you feel. For so long I felt this way because I thought people would judge me or look at me differently but it's so much more common than you think and if people think badly of you it's their problem not yours.

6) I personally think it's really important to surround yourself with good people. When you're struggling you need positive and supportive people by your side. Anybody who deliberately uses it against you just has to go. Cut all ties with people who make you feel even worse about yourself.

7) Finding something you love to do can really help. On the days where anxiety feels a lot heavier and harder to ignore, distraction is key. It's partly the reason why I made this blog in the first place, an escape and something I can throw myself into and be proud of. Reading, walking and music are other good ways to distract yourself.

Thank you for reading, I hope this has helped someone in some way. Sorry that this has turned into a bit of an essay too, there's just so much to cover. 

L x

22 comments

  1. Well done on opening up about anxiety in this post, I personally experience/have experienced all these things and it really is hard..and it's even harder talking about it! Little things like doing my exams in a smaller room and seeing a doctor or talking to someone really did help me too and I couldn't agree more with 'distraction is key' focusing on something that makes you feel good and empowers you works wonders! Great post Liv x x

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    1. I feel like it's something that affects everyone to some degree! As hard as it is, talking can really work wonders. Thankyou xxx

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  2. Beautiful post babe...xx, NEHA

    http://www.theinstylejournal.com/

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  3. I love this so much, and I'm so happy that you felt like you could share this! I felt really silly about writing things down at first, but it really does help! There are some great tips here! Great post xx

    Hannah | luxuryblush

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  4. Wow massive congrats to you hunny for being able to be open about your anxiety. This is a lovely post
    Sophialeigh.net | xx

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  5. I'm so happy you've discussed this topic, because it's such a taboo.

    Have a lovely day!
    xx, Kris

    https://dreamingofpink.wordpress.com

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    1. It definitely is, and it shouldn't be that way. Thank you xo

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  6. Thank you for sharing, this was so educational and informative plus I believe it is a common occurrence for most people. It must take a lot of courage to discuss something so personal and even controversial, well done xxx

    ALittleKiran | Bloglovin

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  7. This is so well written & executed, honestly. I struggled with anxiety for years, it was crippling. I'm so thankful to now have it under control but posts like these are so necessary to normalise it.

    Katie // wordsbykatie.com

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    1. I'm glad you have it under control now, it can be so hard to manage. Thankyou lovely xx

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  8. Well done to you for posting this, It's such a hard and sensitive thing to open up to people about as it makes you feel so embarrassed and alone. I had to drop out of uni due to anxiety and even though I'm so sad I'll never have my degree, I'm in such a better place mentally a year on and that's WAY more important.
    You give some really great advice, keep pushing on lovely.
    Alice Xx
    blacktulipbeauty.wordpress.com

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    1. That's definitely more important, glad you're doing better now. Thankyou Alice xox

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  9. I think it's so important for people to talk about topics less discussed. I really think our generation is smashing this formerly 'taboo' topic.

    I haven't had a panic attack but I do think I get slight anxiety in social situations sometimes.

    Thank you for opening up and sharing!

    Steph
    www.socialspying.com

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    1. It doesn't hurt to get more informed and educated. Especially on such common and important subjects! School is definitely a place a lot of people feel anxious. Thankyou for reading lovely xx

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  10. So happy that you have posted this! I can relate so much! Your definitely right that the stigma should change!

    With love, Tanya x
    www.tantalks.blogspot.co.uk

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  11. I absolutely loved this post, it was so helpful! It is so reassuring to read posts like this because they help me realise that these struggles are normal, but things can get better. I've struggled with anxiety at university this year. I was in a flat in the middle of a busy city centre and i would often feel scared to go across the road to the supermarket. I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed. Sadly i felt less capable of uni over time and i lost motivation towards it. I'm strongly considering taking a gap year/moving to a more local campus university however i am extremely undecided on what to do (probably because of my anxiety yay.) Hopefully i get to a stage where i can talk about my experiences. I think it's important to talk more openly about these things, because there is no need for there to be stigma x

    Steph / rosemelodies.blogspot.com

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    1. It's so normal and it's actually mad how many people I know who suffer with it to some degree. University is such a huge thing anyway but adding anxiety to the mix must make it so overwhelming. I'd say you've got to do what's best for you. As much as you would love to sail through uni, taking a year out to work on what you're going through might be the best option. I know it was for me because I wouldn't have been able to show my full potential in college while struggling with this. There's definitely no need for a stigma and you defo will get to a point where talking about it is easier it just takes time. Everything will work out lovely, even if it doesn't feel like it at times. Cliches about tunnels and lights and all that:)xx

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