This is a guest blog by Lucy Chamberlain: I was once having a coffee in a cafe before work and I suddenly became hot and scared. I felt extremely on edge and self-conscious. Shaking and couldn’t move from my seat. Panic stricken. I wanted to reach out to the cafe staff and cry help but I was too embarrassed. Time was moving on and I knew I had to get to the office.
I shakily text my work colleague who was about to walk past and she came in and rescued me. Walking me to work arm in arm with tears rolling down my cheek. I was in a daze of panic and I can’t ever be sure what initiated it. Although thinking back to that time, my daughter was going through some counselling and I believe the worry took its toll on me internally. I was in a fragile state of mind trying to cope with lots of things. Thank goodness my friend was in that day to support me.
This is living with anxiety. It’s a vast subject and every person has their own take on what or how anxiety can affect them.
What is anxiety for me?
It can be a fear of crowded places. A feeling of being trapped. The absolute necessity to know where the exits are. To be fully aware of doors, spaces and emergency routes out. I once fainted at a Tina Turner concert because the crowd and heat just became too much. As daft as this may sound to someone who hasn’t experienced anxiety, these things run through my head sometimes.
Sadly, PMT often heightens my feelings and can contribute to irrational emotional outbursts. Change of temperature can trigger me too; If it’s too hot, often this causes me to faint, sometimes coupled with sickness and diarrhoea. Anxiety’s great isn’t it!
It can manifest itself into physical feelings which include gritted teeth, clenched jaw, clenched muscles. My head goes fuzzy, my sense of hearing dampens, onset of dizziness, nausea and sweating, palpitations even. Sometimes this happens without you even noticing. So I try and pay attention to my body; Are my shoulders tense and held up below my ears? Am I holding my breath? Do I feel calm inside or is my heart racing? Is my breathing uneven? You can even forget how to breathe in times of panic and it’s extremely scary.
“Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.”— Unknown
Anxiety in any situation
Once I was on a beautiful cruise in the middle of the med relaxing completely, away from any stress or strains. And yet I got up from my sunbed, went to walk into the dining room and wham! The air con hit me, my head spun, I felt nauseous, panicked, I thought I was going to black out in front of all these strangers. So I spent the afternoon in my cabin, trying to find calm and regulate my body back to normal before venturing out again.
Anxiety has a huge effect on my confidence as it can happen without much notice, especially when you are not aware of your body giving you warning signals. So now, I always give myself time to read my bodies signals.
Is there any warning before anxiety strikes?
A plan or simple arrangement can involve a panic stream of twenty ‘what if’ scenarios. Impending dread and a need to get out of a commitment causes my panic to stir. I start to imagine and fear the worst, where awful scenarios play over and over. My mind rambles at a pace I cannot control and I spin with worry. And I sometimes talk myself out of going to save myself from those fears.
At times I can detect racing thoughts, loss of perspective, manic threads of ‘what ifs’. That’s when I know that I need to retreat to a quiet place. Sleep, rest and regain control of my thoughts.
Is anxiety the same for everyone?
There is not a one size fits all here either, which is why I list my own personal scenarios. I went through a time where I had three or four episodes quite close together, and yet sometimes a year can pass before another anxiety attack. So it’s important to know that everyone is different and some can suffer anxiety more than others.
Did You Know : There are over 8 types of Anxiety disorders according to WEBMD. Anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s your brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting you of potential danger ahead.
I used to feel like I was going mad or losing my mind until I found the courage to speak to my doctor about it. That’s when I was diagnosed with anxiety and then of course it all made more sense to me.
How I cope with anxiety
Over time, with lots of self-research, medical check-ups and tests, I have become aware of my possible triggers. I have to be particularly mindful of lots of things; being in a hot environment, queueing up, not moving too quickly from sitting to standing up as my blood pressure cannot regulate quickly enough, crowded places. Strangely, if I feel full after eating in a busy hot restaurant this can be a trigger for me. These are all danger zones for me and my anxiety.
But I have to be aware that something as simple as drowsiness from a food coma – which can then cause nausea and panic to creep in. Or getting too hot and not knowing where all the exits are, can set my anxiety off. I have to mindfully pause, otherwise I’ll pass out. And then even that worry of a possible faint can add to my levels of anxiety.
There are so many layers to anxiety and different offshoots, I really don’t think anxiety can be generalized. It is something unique to each person individually who experiences anxiety and what their personal triggers are.
Anxiety is an invisible illness, making it even more crucial to be kind to others. Anxiety is a real issue for many of us and it is nothing to be ashamed of. And often, with medical assessment, some medications can help alleviate the struggle, and this too should not come with a judgement flag around it.
It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to go to my GP about my episodes of worry and panic and even longer to open up and reach out to friends about it. But once you take that step, it does get easier and it’s less of a burden to carry on your own. There is a kind of comfort knowing that others know, it’s like a comfort blanket in case you fall.
How can you help someone in a state of panic?
Stay calm and talk in a soothing manner. Tell them you are there to help them and re-assure them that they are safe. Confirm that you will stay with them. Help them get their breathing under control and offer water or a change of scenery if they feel the need to get away from where they are i.e. fresh air, take a seat …
Gently try to distract them. Communicate softly but surely. Ask how you can help them. Don’t force lots of conversation or overload them, they will need time to gather themselves. It’s easy for them to feel embarrassed afterwards, so just be there for them, quietly supporting them with no judgement or heavy plans.
Learning to live with anxiety (and its myriad of offshoots)
I’m learning to accept that I have a brain that is wired differently to others. So I accept these things can happen to me and I can only try to regulate them and watch out for them. I’m learning to only do what I’m capable of and stay within a certain amount of comfort zone. And not to expect too much of myself.
I deal with anxiety and I own it. It doesn’t stop me from living or having a great life and if anything, it has taught me to be more self-aware and made my wellbeing a priority and necessity. So I can only offer you my experience and thoughts in this article, and if you’re living with anxiety too, hopefully help you to feel a little less alone in your experience of anxiety.