Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation show that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders than men. From experience I have found that not everyone fully understands what anxiety is, so firstly, I feel that a proper definition of anxiety is in order, writes Lydia Smith
“Anxiety: is a type of fear usually associated with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, but can also arise from something that is happening right now.”(Mental Health Foundation)
Anxiety can present itself in many different ways. Some people may have a social anxiety, where the thought of participating in social events, such as parties can prove to be extremely difficult for them. However, the thought of a simple school presentation can also instill this fear and feeling of panic.
I have had anxiety for just over a year now (or I should say, have been diagnosed with anxiety for just over a year). My own anxiety is nothing like that of a social anxiety – I actually quite like being out and while crowds admittedly may annoy me, they do not fill me with the same fear that they may do with someone else.
My anxiety started around the time I was taking my A’levels – the pressure of parents, teachers and getting a place at university all were triggers for me. During one of my sociology mock exams, whilst being, what felt like, jam packed into a small library right next to a wall with other students close in around me, I started to feel claustrophobic and after only 20 minutes of the exam, I began to feel sick. I had been fine all morning, just with what felt like normal exam nerves before, so this did puzzle me.
I had to quickly ask to leave and after actually being sick, I was asked if I wanted to go back into the exam room and suddenly I started to have a panic attack in the middle of the corridor. I’m not entirely sure why, considering it was a mock exam but I still knew it was important and I was worried that I had missed too much of the time by being out for me to complete the exam. This was for me, embarrassing enough, to be panicking in a busy corridor with teachers that I had known my entire time at the school and I was left to calm down on a bench outside alone. The examiners had no idea how to deal with it and just simply left me to get some air.
Not many people actually seem to understand how a panic attack can feel. I mean, if it has never happened to them, then how could they? I can only describe how panic attacks felt for me. I don’t always feel sick but I get a tight feeling in my stomach, and start to over heat. I now know that when I start to over heat the struggle to breathe comes next. My chest becomes tight and my breathing laboured, almost as if I can’t get enough air to my lungs.
When I was still at school my head of year helped me a lot and referred me to talk to someone from a organisation called Lowdown. Their counselors go into schools to talk to pupils about any problems. These talks helped and I was taught some immediate coping mechanisms that I could do for myself.
After my exams were over, my anxiety calmed itself down for a while and I would only start to feel panicked occasionally, definitely not as much as I used to. Just this easter though the panic attacks came back. I became overly anxious and the slightest thing could send me into a panic and I would feel breathless again and again. It was much stronger than it had been in school and as I knew I wasn’t overly stressed about uni, in fact I was doing well in my course, I became only more and more frustrated with myself. To me it was silly for me to be panicking over nothing. Even though this is a common thing in anxiety cases. I was struggling with being alone at all and needed to be in someone’s company at all times.
Obviously and understandably, this only caused people to become irritated with my constant need for a distractions. I wanted to be outside and kept busy at all times. An impossible task. My frustrations with myself caused me to eventually book an appointment with my GP to ask for help. After explaining that the cognitive behavior that I had learnt with the Lowdown team wasn’t working for me, I was prescribed Propanolol to help keep me calm during the day and also Amitryptiline to take at nights to help me sleep because I had had a strong lack of sleep. Medication for anxiety is often a last resort and doctors would prefer patients to try the cognitive behavior first.
The Propanolol and the Amitryptiline has helped me a lot – after taking it I relatively quickly was able to keep myself calm and was able to sleep through the night. Although I did have a side effect of sickness from the Propanolol on the first day and with such force that I burst a blood vessel in my eye… I looked like an extra from the Walking dead for about 2 weeks. After that first day, I had no other side effects apart from drowsiness and dizzy spells.
Here are a few of the techniques that I have used myself, and also ones that may not have worked for me, but could work for you or anyone else.
- Breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 11 seconds
- Breathe in for a count of ‘1 elephant, 2 elephant, 3 elephant, 4’ and breathe out for ‘5 elephant, 6 elephant, 7 elephant, 8 elephant, more’ – (sounds silly I know but this is one that actually worked for me at times!)
- If you know what your triggers are make a list of the things that make you worry and panic. Then counter this list with how things could go right and how you can prevent these things from happening. – (For me this includes: if I feel myself over heat, go outside for air or sit near a window)
- Listen to music with headphones
- Carry a photograph with you of a place or person who makes you happy (For me this is a photograph of my brother, Gerard)
- Read something – a book, a leaflet, anything you have on hand.
Another thing that I have taken up recently that has helped, is exercise. I may not be the fittest person out there but I exercise as much as I can in my own room, and have started going for a run through the parks in London. Listening to music helps with both of these.
Also reducing the amount of fizzy drinks and sugar that you intake during a particularly anxious time can help. Sounds obvious but replacing this with water, or flavoured water in my case helped me to cut down on the fizzy pop.
Good luck to all of you who suffer with anxiety – it does get better![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]