TW: Panic attacks and anxiety
This post is going to be quite personal to me, and to be honest, quite difficult to write. But it’s not something that people talk about, as it can be very scary and at times very embarrassing (although it shouldn’t be). But I think it’s something that should be talked about. Panic attacks are extremely common, yet people don’t understand them-including a lot of sufferers themselves. Panic attacks come in all different shapes and sizes, sometimes you can’t see when someone is having one and sometimes it is extremely obvious. They can also happen at any time of the day and for any reason. There is no one form of panic attack, and every type can be terrifying for both the sufferer and the people around them at the time. And that’s why I have decided to write this; to help people understand more about what panic attacks are so that the next time it happens it doesn’t take you quite as much by surprise, and it might be easier to handle.
A lot of people get them from immediate triggers such as phobias or stressors that in that moment trigger an immediate panic attack, such as seeing a spider if you have arachnophobia, or riding a plane, or even stepping outside of your house if you have agoraphobia. For other people they can be triggered simply by thoughts. The thought that you left the oven on in the house, the thought that you can’t afford to pay your bills, the thought of the future, or being judged-anything. Your imagination becomes your enemy! Anything you can think up becomes a “real” threat to your mind, so you begin to panic.
For me, panic attacks tend to occur when I am stressed and upset. When I feel guilty about something, or I feel like I am losing control in a situation, I begin to feel disoriented and on the verge of tears. Sometimes my lips start to tremble, and I zone out, my cheeks start to flush and I start to fumble with my words. This is what is visible to everyone else-what is going on inside me is much worse. My stomach knots, and starts tightening, I can hear my pulse loudly in my head, I start to feel faint and sick, and my mind starts racing with thoughts. Thoughts about everything and nothing. Thoughts about why I am panicking, and thoughts about everything that has ever made me panic before, I feel entirely empty and my mind is uncontrollable. It’s like I’m not even there, it’s someone else.
This is the type of panic attack that I used to suffer everyday, but am now feeling them less and less. Sometimes, however, the panic attacks escalate, usually when the feeling of tears welling up turns into full-blown sobbing. That’s when it becomes visible to those around me that I am actually having a panic attack. My crying becomes uncontrollable and I start to sob, like I am in physical pain, which really, I am. This is when I begin hyperventilating. I forget how to breathe so my breathing quickens and I start gulping in too much air. The whole ordeal is quite traumatising the first time someone experiences it. And the first time someone witnesses it too. When I am finally able to manage my breathing, I start to calm down, and as long as I am thinking about something other than what triggered my panic attack, I am able to start going back to “normal”. After that though, for the rest of the day I sort of feel lost and in a bit of a trance. I am there but, I am sort of not quite there, as if what happened hadn’t actually happened.
I’m not going to lie and say they have become easier to handle yet, but I think that writing down how they make me feel might help me to know when one is about to happen, so maybe I can stop it in its tracks, or at least know how to calm it down quicker. This is something I would recommend anyone doing if they suffer from panic attacks, it was suggested to me recently, and I think it makes sense. Of course, everyone suffers differently, like I said, so something that helps me cope, may not work for you! If anyone reading this has any suggestions for ways to deal with panic attacks, then comment it, as you never know, you may really be helping someone out.
So again, writing down my symptoms is one way I am hoping will help me combat my panic attacks, but that’s more of a long-term solution. It’s important for every individual to acknowledge their panic attacks as a real thing, and obviously hope for them not to happen, but know that they are a possibility. I feel that in the moment, not beating yourself up about it, or feeling embarrassed or more stressed is a good idea, as panic attacks tend to spiral out of control.
So, talk to yourself in your mind the same way you would like a loved one to talk to you. Don’t knock yourself or worry about it, just try to take deep breaths and calm your mind. Don’t think about how long it will take you, or how silly you might look- none of that really matters! Just take a moment for yourself to relax. This goes for both when you feel a panic attack coming on, and for when you may already be having one.
I know first hand how difficult it feels to deal with a panic attack, so these are just a few of my thoughts on them. Obviously I am not a doctor or a counsellor, but I have experienced them first hand. I never used to understand them until I first had one, so something else I want to say is this: try to understand those people around you. I know it’s hard, believe me, but it is hard for them too, to see you suffering-especially if it’s someone who loves you. So try to tell them at a time when you are not panicking, exactly what it is that you feel and how they can help you.
I hope this post gets out there to the people it might help, and I also really hope I haven’t offended anyone as that was definitely not the point! This is just my personal experience with panic attacks and the advice I would give anyone, so I really hope it helps someone.
So again, if you liked this post or think someone might benefit from it, please share it, and follow my blog for more posts about mental health, travel, and life in general!