There are quite a few definitions online which attempt to explain what a panic attack is, but the one I couldn’t resist quoting was this…
“The worst most uncomfortable thing which could happen to someone (death comes a close second).” Urban Dictionary
Amusing as it may seem to someone who hasn’t experienced one, it’s actually not far off the state you fall into when a panic attack strikes, and when it does it’s anything but funny.
My panic attacks started when I was about 14 years old. It began with eating out in restaurants, if I felt all eyes were on me to finish the big plate of food in front of me I would get increasingly anxious about it. I didn’t want to let people down, feel pressured or be centre of attention, so I used to get all hot and bothered until I was able to leave the restaurant and alleviate the symptoms of feeling hot and sick with some fresh air. I felt so stupid for panicking about such a weird thing, and kept beating myself up every time it happened. I also used to get cramps so bad I’d have to lie on the floor and curl into a ball until the pain subsided. I still have this kind of feeling from time to time, which often leads to stress induced IBS. Oh the joys of life!
The triggers and experiences of people who suffer with anxiety vary greatly, and how that manifests itself in your body is unique to each person. For me the danger zones were; restaurants, hot enclosed spaces such as gyms or underground trains and also being in public situations with people I felt were judging me or making me feel I had to pretend to be someone I’m not. To this day I prefer the company of men, who I feel are much more likely to be honest with me and not leave me out or become competitive or petty. (I do have a close group of ladies whom I adore, but these people tend to be feisty, opinionated and wear their hearts on their sleeves – I can relate to these sorts of gals).
The WORST bits about my panic attacks:
- It always came out of nowhere and hit me like a brick wall – totally ruining a nice social situation with friends or family
- I didn’t know how to control it or stop it
- The physical pain it caused was unbelievable and it scared me that my brain was capable of causing such a real pain in my body
I used to cope with it by doing one thing – going very quiet, and then making my excuses so I could run to the loo or outside into the fresh air. Often I’d have to go home early from an event of party because I couldn’t recover from it once it started, which would always make me feel upset and guilty, especially if I had to get my boyfriend to leave with me and get me home.
People who noticed my sudden pale demeanor and lack of chatter would start asking me what was wrong – this was the WORST. The last thing I needed was all eyes on me, it made me feel like a freak. I felt really alone, and still do when it does occasionally happen.
I never really met anyone else in my teens who had anxiety, so I felt like it was just something that affected me….perhaps nobody else wanted to admit it when we were younger? It wasn’t until I met more people at Uni/work that I realised anxiety takes many forms, and all of us have our demons to live with.
For me the only way I got past it, was by getting to the root cause. What was it at 14 which triggered these feelings of insecurity and panic? Turns out it wasn’t really about the big plate of food I couldn’t finish, Hypnotherapy helped me to uncover the first time I’d ever felt that twisting knot creeping into my stomach, it all really started with my parents divorce. (Standard divorce-child problem/moaning you might say – but its true).
I’ll go on to talk in more detail about Hypno and how it helped me in future posts, and also divorce and the ways in which this can affect someone for a long time – not just the kids.
Thankfully once I got to the root cause I was able to work out why they happened and take measures to stop them ruling my head. Often understanding what something is and why it’s happening can be the biggest relief.
My top tips for coping with a panic attack:
- Take some deep slow breaths – this will calm your heart rate and help you to focus
- Tell yourself ‘I am in control of my body and mind, anxiety is not – you will not ruin my day – I know you aren’t real’. Reciting to the panic attack as if it were a person can help to dismiss it from your mind, reminding you that you are in control
- Imagine yourself blowing all your bad thoughts into a big balloon and releasing it into the air – picture it floating up and away from you. A great technique for releasing tension
- OM Meditation and chanting – not easy to do in public but something to try practicing each day to help to relax your mind and body. It entails focussing solely on your breathing and when you exhale you chant ‘AUM’ in a long, slow and steady stream. Further information on chanting and its benefits here.
- If fresh air is what you need – go get some – don’t presume that everyone is watching you, that’s how your anxiety wants you to feel. Everyone around you should be totally supportive of your needs and understand when you need to take five to calm down and compose yourself. You don’t have a big neon sign above your head screaming ‘I’M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK’ – even if that’s how it feels
If anyone else out there has suffered with anxiety I’d love to hear from you and know how your experiences varied from my own? Or if you are struggling to cope with anxiety – talking about it can often help. Really I just hope that by sharing my own struggles, I might be able to offer some reassurance to someone else out there who’s feeling the same way I did.
Other well-known people who’ve also openly talked about their anxiety:
Zoella – talks about her personal journey with anxiety quite frequently and campaigns for more public awareness about it
Buzzfeed – also did a recent round-up of some of my personal heroes who’ve also openly talked about suffering from anxiety including; Adele, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Lena Dunham. All fiercely strong women who aren’t afraid to admit their weaknesses and their human everyday problems.
Thanks for reading