Around three weeks ago, I had my first anxiety attack in a very long time. I was at a good friend’s birthday party, surrounded by people who I enjoy spending time with; I recognise what I feel is irrational and I can’t explain why it happened, all I know is that it did. And when it hit, it was terrifying.
I noticed that I started to play with my watch and couldn’t keep eye contact. I began to feel wave after wave of fear. My breath quickened, I started sweating. I could hear my heart pounding so loudly I thought it would beat out of my chest. I struggled to stay standing. Soon after, I became so afraid that I couldn’t catch my breath.
It’s an emotional nightmare. Everything feels surreal, ethereal, and dissociated from my personality. I felt like I was losing control over both my mind and my body; I felt dizzy and claustrophobic, as if I had water in my lungs and fire in my skin simultaneously.
Holding my anxiety in causes me to think about it too much, which only increases it. It can seem embarrassing to tell people that you’re suffering from an anxiety attack, but from experience the best thing for me is to talk about what’s going on so that I can reduce its severity.
Fortunately, I have a great set of friends. I knew what was happening and I knew that I had to leave. I told two of them before I walked out what was going on, and one came outside with me until I calmed down. No fuss, no drama. Which was perfect. The last thing I wanted was for it to be made a big deal; I’m so thankful for that.
I distracted myself by walking quickly home, so that I could focus on breathing properly, and listening to some music. It’s simple but, for me, it works. I couldn’t stop it, but I could lessen its severity by doing something that relaxes me immediately. The less severe my anxiety, the less I fear the attacks, and the easier they are to control.
Perhaps the worst part of an anxiety attack for me is the uncertainty of their appearance. They can occur at any time. The fear-inducing experience peaks around 10 minutes, but the exhausting physical symptoms can extend far beyond that. It took me a few hours to fully calm down, and even after that, I hardly slept that night.
One thing that some people don’t understand about anxiety attacks is how they can be so scary when people know that they get them. Doesn’t the fact that you know you have an anxiety disorder help you realise that it’s an anxiety attack?
It’s just not that simple. Oftentimes the fear is about losing control, embarrassing oneself in public, or being trapped in an uncomfortable situation. So even if you know this is your anxiety talking, it’s still terrifying to feel like you’re not in control and that you can’t do anything to stop it.
I used to ask myself if what I’m experiencing is real or just inside my head. I’ve come to learn that even if sometimes is inside my head, that doesn’t make it any less real.
I used to try to escape and pretend it wasn’t happening. The problem with escaping the situation whenever you have an anxiety attack is that it only works in the short term.
After the anxiety subsides, you can feel like it was a good decision to take yourself out of the situation and can sometimes cause you to avoid those same situations in future. When you have an anxiety attack, you can fear that you’ll have another one, and that can cause you to avoid those same situations that you associate with them.
Your mind is your prison when you focus on your fears; you might tell yourself that these are insignificant choices, but really, you’re avoiding putting yourself in situations in which you might potentially have anxiety and are made to cope with it.
If you start avoiding things, modifying your day, you know you’re giving in to the anxiety. You might feel stronger because you’re not experiencing it, but really what’s happening is that you’re sheltering yourself from the anxiety. Instead of getting a handle on it, you’re giving it more power. Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.
Now I acknowledge it. Face it head on. Beat it. It’s perfectly okay to admit that you’re not okay; you’re not fragile or broken, you’re simply experiencing emotions more acutely than some other people. You’re not alone.
If you find yourself in this position, know that everyone feels pain, even if they don’t appear to. It can happen to anybody and it’s not a weakness. Anxiety attacks can appear out of nowhere, with no cause and with no explanation.
The symptoms are very real and very stressful, painful even. But they’ll go away when the attack is over. The more you worry that something is wrong with your mind or your body, the more likely the attack will be worse.
You can’t snap your fingers and simply be okay, but you can understand your body and your mind and learn to control them. Remind yourself that this is an anxiety attack and that what you’re feeling are normal symptoms. Describe what they are so you can let them go. It’s not going to stop an anxiety attack, but it can really help if you find yourself having one.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change. You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.