Anxiety 101: Everything You Need To Know About Anxiety
If I were you, i’d grab a good cup of tea because I have a feeling that this is gonna be a long one…
To be honest, this is a pretty strange thing for me to write about. I’ve never sat down and written about my anxiety before, but I think it’s time that I did. Hopefully by doing so, if you suffer from anxiety yourself, you’ll feel like you’re not alone and if you’ve never suffered from it, you’ll gain an understanding of what it’s really like for people that do and how you might be able to help someone that’s going through it. I’m aware that some people view anxiety as a completely irrational behavioural response to certain events/situations, and at face value I suppose that’s exactly what it is. However, I can assure you that to the person suffering, the fear that they are experiencing is extremely real and unimaginably terrifying.
Despite the extent to which it has dominated my thought processes throughout the years, I have been able to conceal my anxiety extremely well, meaning that even those closest to me, at least until a couple of years ago may not have been aware of it. For me, it’s something that has become progressively worse over the years. I’m aware that there are many, many reasons that prompt the onset of anxiety/panic attacks for different people, mine however, derives from my tremendous fear of being sick (emetophobia).
Unfortunately, this fear has prompted me to have serious issues with food/restaurants/public places. I do not have an eating disorder, in fact, I love food. But I hate everything that is associated with it. I struggle to sit in restaurants (they make me feel trapped), I struggle to eat food in restaurants (it could make me unwell), I struggle when in large crowds (I could be sick in front of everyone), I can think of nothing worse than going on a night out (others could be sick around me), I hate flying (because i’m trapped and I could feel sick)…the list goes on. Essentially, my anxiety and the source of it has prompted me to struggle doing things that I know deep down that i’d love to do. What I hate most is that i’m an extremely social person, I love hanging around with my friends, I absolutely love to travel…but anxiety makes it super difficult for me. After a recent experience in London, during which I humiliated myself by leaving a family meal at The Shard halfway through, I decided that it really was time for me to grab my anxiety by the balls (excuse the crude expression) and face it head on. Do you really think I want to spend what are meant to be the most enjoyable years of my life, sat at home watching crappy tv, instead of going on a good night out with my friends?! No. Definitely not.
Even though I could go on for hours on end about how much anxiety affects my life, i’m not sure if that’ll be very useful for you guys. I believe that it’s important for me to draw attention to the fact that panic attacks can happen to anyone, absolutely anywhere, at any time and that things can be done to make them at least a little easier.
Common places to have panic attacks:
- In bed at night
- In a supermarket
- On an aeroplane
- In a taxi
- In a club
- In a restaurant
- At a family member’s house
- In a classroom
- In the library
- In a lecture
- On a boat
- At work
- Whilst shopping
- Basically any place/method of transport which you cannot get out of easily
What happens during panic attacks:
A panic attack is caused as a result of the release of adrenaline after your body perceives a situation as dangerous. The release of adrenaline prompts your heart to beat faster, and your muscles to tense. You may begin to breathe more rapidly in order to gain more oxygen, which will in turn enable your muscles to derive energy from glucose (despite the fact that you don’t actually need the energy). You may also become lightheaded as a result of blood diverting to your muscles. Your senses will heighten and your digestive system will also begin to shut down, making your throat dry and causing you to feel extremely nauseous.
Multiple physiological and phycological symptoms can kick in, including:
- Rapid breathing
- Feeling dizzy
- Hot and cold flushes
- Pains in your chest
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling claustrophobic
- Uncontrollably crying
- Shaking profusely
- Feelings of depersonalisation
How to deal with panic attacks:
Firstly, I feel that it’s important for me to state that I know how easy it is to let your anxiety get the better of you, to let yourself begin to feel that you’re a nuisance and that you’re beginning to ruin everyone’s lives around you. But it’s so important to remember that although things can be done to help you, you cannot help how you feel at that moment in time and that you’re not alone.
When panic attacks do occur, i’m aware that there are only a limited amount of things that can truly help. However, there definitely are a few things that you can do that really do take the edge off. These include:
- Going outside and taking deep breaths
- Sipping on a glass of water
- Inhaling while counting to 4, and exhaling while counting to 4
- Fanning yourself/ moving around – I know this is pretty embarrassing if you’re in public but often it really does help. I find myself tapping my feet on the floor and fanning myself to cool down
- Ask anyone around you not to talk to you (this might not help everyone but I like complete silence)
- Getting a cold, wet flannel and keeping it in your hands
- In terms of long term improvement, I would suggest signing up for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
I’m fully aware that it is super easy to simply avoid panic attacks by not going anywhere and not leaving the house. However, I would encourage you to try as hard as possible not to let that happen. I know it’s tempting, because of course it’s easier. But please do not let yourself get to that stage, there’s so much out there for you to see, do and explore. I’m not suggesting that you unnecessarily get on the London Eye, or take the underground metro system wherever possible, but you should at least try and continue doing the things that you love to do. If that means not being able to go to a restaurant for your friend’s birthday dinner…so be it, but reschedule and go to a park for a picnic instead, it’s so important that you try not to let anxiety get in the way of your friendships.
There are also many things that can be done to reduce the stress of certain situations too. For me, organising myself is a huge one; getting plenty of sleep, eating well and structuring my day are all up there as being hugely important when i’m set to be doing something I deem as nerve-wracking. If you’re set to go out for a meal/drink, have someone who is willing to give you a lift home if necessary – If I was meant to be getting a taxi home at 2am my mind would be dominated by this thought throughout the entirety of the night, but having someone willing to collect me puts my mind at great ease. Of course, different things work for different people, but the things previously listed do help me tremendously and may help you too.
How to help someone who is having a panic attack/prone to having panic attacks:
I feel as though I should write something to guide those who have not experienced panic attacks themselves, but would like to be able to understand them more/ help someone who is going through one. Before I begin though, one thing you must understand if you are a friend of an anxious person is that, although they may miss social events, it is not because they don’t want to spend time with you personally. I turn down social occasions all the freaking time. It’s not because I don’t want to go, it’s not because I don’t love my friends, it’s because I just cannot face putting myself in a situation where I may make a fool out of myself publicly, or could possibly induce panic upon myself that could be avoided.
When it comes to actual panic attacks though, I can’t imagine it being a very easy thing to have to deal with as a spectator. Often I don’t even know what I want during a panic attack myself, so i’m sure that it would be even more difficult for someone watching to know what I want/need. Here are a few tips that could help:
- Do not be forceful or angry, it is the worst thing you could do, it will only make the person panic more.
- Don’t make the person feel as though they have disappointed you, or have made you look bad (i.e when you have to both leave a restaurant during a meal)
- Look for the positives of the situation. Praise them for actually going out/putting themselves out of their comfort zone
- Ask the person what they want you to do
- Remain calm
- Do not under any circumstances tell the anxious person to ‘calm down’, trust me, if they could simply ‘calm down’, they would
- Be supportive and reassuring, stay by their side and let them know that you are there for them
I think that that’s everything for my Anxiety 101 blog post. I really hope that i’ve covered all of the necessary topics regarding anxiety/panic attacks and that my points have been at least slightly beneficial for someone. I know that panic attacks are truly terrifying and that they can so easily dominate your life, but with supportive friends and great help and treatment available, it can get better. Whilst it is not necessary that you force yourself to go somewhere to make someone else happy, it is hugely important that you do not let your anxiety dominate every single decision that you make and that you do not let it stop you from doing the things you love.
Thank you for taking the time to read this (excessively long) blog post.
Love always, Naomi x