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My Life and Panic Attacks

panic-attacks

Panic attacks can be an awful experiences for people to go through and can often be very scary and unexpected. [How to stop a panic attack] Here we hear about one young woman’s experience of panic attacks, how they have affected her life and how she has learned to manage them.

What does a panic attack feel like? What are your experiences?

Because you’ve never experienced anything like it before, you feel as if there’s something wrong with your body, and because of the symptoms I thought I was having a heart attack or something. In the worst ones your chest tightens so much and your heart starts racing really fast and irregularly and your legs start to shake uncontrollably. In episodes that aren’t as bad you feel panicky and shaky.

Can you predict when they’re going to happen, what triggers them?

The ones that aren’t that bad are brought on by stressful or flustering situations, whereas the bad ones for me aren’t usually brought on by anything in particular but prolonged periods of anxiety and seem more to come out of nowhere.

I’ve only had three really bad ones; when I was travelling on the train, when I was at a friend’s house and at home the day after I had my handbag snatched from me in the street- which was an obvious trigger. But I’ve also had them on holiday when I felt happy and relaxed, which shows there isn’t always an obvious cause.

If I’ve had a massive build-up of anxiety for whatever reason, that’s when I have them. In a way, you can predict when they’re about to happen, I start to feel really strange and breathless and disorientated. It’s weird because one week I might suffer from a panic attack quite badly, and the other I’ll be completely fine. I don’t have to deal with them constantly.

When did the panic attacks start? What have you been advised by professionals?

The panic attacks started when I went to university and really disliked my course, and dropped out to start a different one the year after. I felt really disappointed and stressed out, and subconsciously a bit as though I had failed because I had spent time and money on something that wasn’t working for me. I think this time is what started off my panic attacks, I felt quite low and as if I wasn’t really in control of my life. I spoke to a university councillor at the time and she confirmed that this upheaval was likely to be the root of all the anxiety I was experiencing.

It took about a year for my symptoms to be properly diagnosed as panic attacks. I went to see a GP a few times and they didn’t really seem to take it seriously at all and were actually very dismissive, as though I was overreacting. They said “Yeah, it’s anxiety” and basically told me to get over it, but I knew it was obviously affecting me and I was having really scary experiences. Eventually I was prescribed an anti-depression and anti-anxiety drug.

How have they affected your everyday life, have you managed to cope?

I was supposed to be visiting friends in Italy and I was deliberating on whether to go. I decided I would go in the end as I didn’t want to let the fear of having a panic attack hold me back in doing things. I knew it might be difficult, and it was but that’s because I was worrying it would happen, and it did. But I’m still glad I went instead of giving in.

I hate being in company if it happens, it’s an embarrassing and private thing that’s difficult to go through. In most social situations I’m concerned about having one but if I don’t think about it and the possibility that I might have one, it doesn’t actually happen. If I’m distracted, it almost never happens really.

I’ve learnt to manage my panic attacks by finding out more about them, about why they are caused and what happens to your body when you have one. Understanding them and my own personal symptoms and triggers has made me feel more confident in coping with them.

You panic because of what’s happening during the episode, which makes it a million times worse. My panic attacks turned into a vicious cycle of me thinking I was going to have them and then having one, which I’ve been told is apparently quite common. Even though it’s really hard, the calmer you keep yourself, the more mild they are and the shorter they last. If you don’t let it run your life it improves, but it’s hard to get to that stage when you can stop thinking about it. It took me about two months to get there.

It’s funny how something mental can affect you in such a physical way, that’s part of why it can be so worrying. It’s reassuring to know that there’s nothing really bad happening to your body and that panic attacks are just an intense symptom of anxiety. Even though I’ve been reassured about this by my doctor, they’re still really scary in the moment but when they happen I just try and keep calm and rationalise the situation.

My mum looked up things to help with panic attacks and anxiety and found a brand of natural stress relief pastilles which are meant to calm you down. I keep a packet of them in my handbag, they’re more of a comfort than anything. I think reading about panic attacks are, in itself is a good distraction technique, because it makes your focus on something else in a calm way rather than fixating on your breathing or whether you’re starting to feel shaky. It nips it in the bud.

Panic attacks stopped me wanting to do things at first but I did them anyway because I don’t want a trend to establish where they control me.
I no longer take medication for panic attacks, as I feel I am coping without it. Distraction is the best thing. If I wasn’t working, I think it would have got really bad, but now I feel happy and productive, and my panic attacks have really improved.

If  you want some extra distraction and support during times where you feel alone with your worries,  then visit our community to talk to others who may have shared your experience, or read some of our light hearted eBooks to help you discover more about what you may want out of life and also visit our Video Moods that helps to connect with how you are feeling whenever you need it.

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This article was contributed by Pink Moods.