Sunday, 10 August 2014

August Awareness | Anxiety and Panic Attacks

This blog post isn't designed to cause any upset, I hope it's going to give you some tools that I use myself so that if you or anyone you know experiences anxiety or panic attacks you can get a handle on them sooner. I'm not saying that I have the answer to prevent panic attacks, still fighting them myself I'm not the person to do that, and maybe there's no such cure. I am not a doctor either so you should always seek professional help before/if things are going beyond your control.

This post was not easy to write. Nor was it written in one go. I actually started writing this post at the beginning of July but I never had the guts to click 'publish'. I'm not one to bare my soul to strangers but I hope that by doing this I help at least one person. This blog isn't well known but if you know of someone who would benefit from this post, let them know. If you thinks it's rubbish then click next blog, don't go criticising people if they comment, thank you.

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Imagine you are in a room full of doors and windows. Around you are lots of people and they're happily walking in and out of the doors, chatting to each other through the windows and generally having a good time, and so are you. Then there's an emergency, for the sake of the example I'll say it's a fire. Everyone in the room starts to leave through the doors, slightly hasty, but feeling safe in the fact that they can get out of the area before the fire comes anywhere near them. You try to follow but you find that you're stuck. Your fight or flight response is kicking in but no one around you has noticed and they're all now safely out of the situation. You can feel the heat rising through your feet to your cheeks. The oxygen from the air is disappearing and you're finding yourself struggling to breathe. You can be stuck in this situation for what feels like a very long time but, in reality, can be up to ten minutes at the worst point. 

This is how I feel when I have a panic attack.

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A lot of people struggle to understand what this feels like if they haven't experienced it for themselves. Of course, in the example above the response is perfectly reasonable. But imagine that you're in the middle of a shop, or on a train, or at a meal with friends and your body begins to go through the scenario's motions. To most people they see no response. To them you've just gone a little flushed and aren't really engaging in the conversation. But, to you, it feels like an overwhelming pressure on your heart and your head as your brain and body try to process and deal with it's perceived fight or flight scenario.

Don't let the attacks get the upper hand.

My biggest obstacle at the moment is not letting the thought of having an attack get the better of me. There was a time, not so long ago, where I would be in tears at the thought of having to leave my house, when just two weeks earlier I was driving to work, seeing my friends, going to the shops and generally living my life. I had let the fear of an attack get the better of me. I became so afraid that I would be in a situation I couldn't get out of that I wouldn't let myself do anything. Now I actively try to tell myself to go and do things to push my mind. To take me out of my comfort zone. It's baby steps but, if you've read my earlier posts you will know that, I've moved across the country and away from a large chunk of my support system. I had all my tools at hand and I didn't panic for the entire journey (5 and a half hours, plus traffic and driving in multiple lanes). You can't let them get the upper hand. Once you start stopping yourself from doing things it is a spiral to the point where leaving the house becomes a much bigger challenge than it used to be.

Accept your emotions.

Personally, I feel a lot of anger towards myself when I feel my hesitation to do something. Particularly if it is something that I used to do without thinking. I feel embarrassed and ashamed when I see the faces of those around me going off to do things that I chickened out of. That's why I push myself. If I panic then I panic, but it doesn't mean that I will panic in the same situation if I do it again. Granted, there are days when I feel drained and I don't push myself, but I do tell myself it's just one day and then I treat the next as though the previous wasn't there. Don't feel like you have to act differently to how you feel. This is your experience and your life, you're entitled to feel your emotions.

Mind over matter.

I know this isn't easy, I can feel you rolling your eyes. The amount of people that have told you to just go out there, or man up or stop attention seeking, and live life is likely to be numerous but, it is about mind over matter. When you feel the anxiety building ask yourself 'where is the danger?', 'Where is the threat?' or 'what is making me anxious?' For the first two questions, you will hopefully realise that there is none. For the third, start to work out what you could do to remain in the situation but be more comfortable, if that fails then leave the situation and repeat the questions for the new place.

Distraction.

There isn't always the opportunity for you to remove yourself to somewhere else, or it may be that that isn't helping you. Another method to try is distraction. Personally, if I focus on one of my senses it helps me to 'reset' my brain by asking it to focus on something other than it's fight or flight response. I tend to always have something edible in my bag, or a book, or my iPod. Each of these things help to distract me. If you can't do any of these things in your environment then look around you.Use your eyes to work out the pattern on the floor, or watch birds flying around, people watch, anything to use the senses. You could even trace small circles on your hands, or temples, to see if that helps. For me, touch, smell and sound aren't as effective as it tends to be an overload of these senses that trigger me. For you, it may be different. See each anxiety attack as an opportunity to test your senses. Find which ones work for you and remember it.

Trust those around you.

In the majority of situations you won't be alone. To prevent the panic from escalating, trust those around you. If they're close friends or family, let them know how to read the signs so that they can help you. If they know how to distract your mind, or how else they can help, then you won't feel as alone. A few people close to me know me well enough that they can even tell from entering the situation how I might react, and they distract me from the beginning until I feel comfortable. Don't be afraid to tell them what you need. It could be that you like to be near a door or window until you feel calm, if you don't ask, they don't know.

Breathe.

I can't emphasise this enough. Breathe, take deep breaths. Prove to your mind that it can feel oxygen. If you have a particularly happy memory in your mind focus on it as you inhale and exhale all your anxiety.

Don't do it alone.

  • You're not a superhero. Everyone needs support and that includes you. There are countless resources available now that can help. Your local doctor will be able to refer you to someone to talk to. You may do a course in CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), they may give you some medication to help, they may do something else. You're not the first person they will have seen and you won't be the last. By going to them you are proving that the training and resources are required to help people including yourself. 
  • There are also several websites that can help too. My favourites are MindAnxietyUK and Time to Change which is run by Mind. 
  • You may already have the resources but want an outlet. At this point you can talk to your family, a therapist (of which there are a variety) or you can write a diary. Why not buy a notepad and for each feeling of anxiety you have you can write it down and then explore it further at a 'safer' time.


I hope this has helped you, whether it's to help your own anxiety or to help you understand someone else's. Everyone is different so always remember that what works for one person, may not work for another. Find your own tools too and share them in the comments. If you have any questions for me then I can be contacted via email, the comments and twitter @chezautumn.


Make your own choices

Toodlepip x