Hello friend, how are you?
Mental health is finally starting to get some more awareness and it is coming from the friends and loved ones of someone who is struggling. I think that it is great that people are talking about it and making it a more comfortable topic, but do you, a person who battles with your own mental health, feel comfortable? I personally deal with an anxiety and panic disorder and I sometimes I find that overcoming it is easier said than done. There are right and wrong actions when you are helping your friend/loved one get through this. It is not always just the attack itself, but the recovery that can take a few days after.
If you have not gone through a panic attack yourself, and I sincerely pray that you never will, I hope that this will bring a better understanding for you to increase your own awareness and maybe revamp how you act towards that person in your life who does struggle with this. My family still doesn’t quite understand or know what to do, but they realize that dismissing it is wrong. My boyfriend didn’t get it until he witnessed one and now he is a little more conscious if I say I don’t feel like being around people tonight, not to push it until I give in.
I have heard a lot mentioned that the more you go out and do those things and push your comfort zone, eventually you will be able to handle it. And if you don’t feel like going out, do it anyways. I disagree. I know that you know your body and your mind and that you know what you are prepared to deal with at that time. Don’t pressure others to do something that they don’t want to do and don’t let yourself be pressured.
I am not an expert in mental health, I am not a therapist and I do not have a medical degree. But I am a real person who really cares, and I’m not browsing the web for stories, I’m speaking from my personal experiences.
Firstly, when does a panic attack occur? Maybe you are out for a walk, driving home, getting groceries, at work, watching a movie, or making a cup of tea, then BAM! Panic attack.
Why does it happen? When it hits you it really is just out of the blue and when doing something completely harmless, it feels just random and you have no explanation why. And that in itself is hard to deal with, not knowing why. But actually, there is always a trigger for it. It might be from something immediate like breaking up with your significant other, loss of a loved one, or losing your job. It could be from having a conversation about something that gets you really fired up, or from being in a large social gathering and feeling that anxiety. Just because one of these things has happened doesn’t mean that you are going to have an attack and it doesn’t mean that you will have one right away. It could be months later and a thought will cross your mind, then BAM! Panic attack.
Who has them? The truth is anyone can have them. Not one person is less likely to have one than another. You don’t need a previous history with anxiety and panic attacks to have one. I believe that there are many factors that contribute to having a panic attack and all that needs to happen is for them to come together at the same time for an attack to occur.
What happens during a panic attack? I know that people who have not experienced or witnessed a panic attack may not have the most sympathy in the world to someone who is having one. I have had someone say, “Oh just breathe, you’ll be fine.” And then walk away. Not helpful. Have you ever fallen and got the wind knocked out of you? It’s like that, but you have no reason why you feel like that, it just happens and it is scary.
I cry hysterically, my heart pounds so loud if feels like it’s going to pop out of my chest, I get shaky and my hands tremble, my legs don’t support me anymore, I get a pain in my chest like what I would assume a heart attack feels like and I feel like I am about to die.
And those are all the most common symptoms of anyone who is having a panic attack. Most common. Knowing how those symptoms feel makes my heart ache at the thought of another being experiencing that. Attacks last anywhere from a few seconds to upwards of an hour, but usually around 10 minutes. It doesn’t sound that long, does it? That is the longest 10 minutes of life. It completely drains you of everything and you are just left with exhaustion, feeling numb, and the inability to speak, which I guess is called residual symptoms. And it doesn’t end there. You can feel those residual symptoms, well I do anyways, for a couple days after.
The day after I have an attack, I feel like I had been abused, mentally, emotionally and physically. Even the thought of someone giving me a hug or just poking me to get my attention, tenses up my entire body. I shut down. I experience derealisation,I will be out and about and just feel, floaty, like nothing is real and that I have made it all up in my head.
So, can you stop it? I’m not sure if you could use the mind over matter thing to prevent yourself from going through all that when you feel the onset or not. I have prolonged it a few minutes to be able to leave a conference room and run out to find someplace private. But either way, it is going to happen. It is best just to face it head on and it will soon be over. You will feel like you have been hit by a freight train, but it will be over.
How do you calm down? I remember my first significant attack. I was at a gathering that I was pestered into going to. I knew everyone but not really enough to have anything more than a small talk kind of conversation. I was in an uncomfortable situation for hours, which really brought up my anxiety. Then, as I was leaving their yard, I got stuck in the snow and I was driving my grandpa’s truck. My uncle was behind me and he came to help me, but snapped at me for not having it in 4 wheel drive. I started to tear up. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t form words. It was 11 pm and I had to call home and talk to someone because I had no idea what was wrong and I had 20 km to get home in -30 Canadian weather. My granny talked to me the whole way home and reminded me throughout that I could in fact breathe and that I wasn’t going to die.
I often call home and have someone talk at me, I don’t respond other than muffled crying noises, but they talk about things I could care less about and it distracts me from what my body is feeling.
Remember to breathe. Deep breathe through your nose, hold it for a few seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth. I read somewhere that doing that syncs up your body and helps you get over feeling nauseous, I use it for my anxiety and it works for me.
What is there for treatment? Anxiety and panic disorders are very treatable, but it takes some patience to find what is going to work the best for you. If you have experienced this, go see your doctor and explain what happened. You get this little form to fill out and it has questions like, is this making it difficult to perform daily tasks, is it making it more difficult to be at work, do you have less desire to do things you love, and do you have thoughts of physically harming yourself. What it is, is a worksheet that will be tallied up at the end and that will give you a rate from mild to severe anxiety which will help determine your treatment. Therapy. Just talking it out and finding your triggers. Even talking and feeling heard can help. Medication is another option. Some people feel like if they go on medication that it means they are crazy. No. It means that you are bettering yourself and getting help and there is no shame in that. A combination of therapy and medication can eliminate your panic attacks or at the very least, decrease their occurrence.
You may not see these results or feel any different for a little while. But one day you will wake up and will realize that it has been forever since having an attack.
How do you cope? Sometimes you have to talk about it with someone who understands. And sometimes you just have to spend a little quiet time with yourself. But the important thing to remember is that you are not alone. You do not need to deal with this all by yourself. And you don’t have to feel that you are never going to be able to enjoy life.
Find someone to talk to if you need it. Maybe all that you need is to talk and feel heard. I hope that you won’t be afraid to reach out to someone.
I hope this brings a little more understanding to what it is really like to go through a panic attack. For those of you who don’t have issues with this, I encourage you to just reach out to your loved ones and let them know that you are willing and available if they ever need someone to talk to. And I hope that those who need it will reach out.
We only have this one life, and we all deserve to enjoy it. Sometimes it isn’t even apparent who really needs to feel that extra bit of love, so spread it around to everyone! Let’s help each other to help themselves. No one needs to get by alone.