I am not planning to talk exclusively about anxiety on this blog, as I also want to share my other interests and passions, from books to music to anything random that catches my attention, but anxiety affects so much of my daily life that I feel like one way or another it will come up in my posts quite often anyway. And I want to finally be open and honest about it, so I won’t try to hide it like I have always done.
To start off this blog, I thought I’d talk a bit about what anxiety is and what it means to me. I asked on my Instagram stories if anyone had questions or wanted to know something specific about anxiety and I did get a few interesting inputs, so I will try answer these as best as possible. Please keep in mind that I am not a psychologist and I have had no medical preparation. All I say and everything I will write about on this blog comes from my own personal experience of suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for several years.
Here are the questions I received. Let’s get started! 😊
- What is an anxiety disorder and how is it different from what everyone experiences when they’re anxious?
This is actually something I plan on writing a longer post on in the near future, because it’s a question I have often been asked and have thought about for a long time. Feeling nervous and scared is something everyone experiences throughout their life, it’s a normal and natural reaction to new and unusual situations, and/or emotionally demanding ones. Feeling anxious when you have to take an important test in school or when you’re about to go to a job interview is absolutely natural. What an anxiety disorder does, though, is make you feel absolutely terrified in front of situations that, from a rational point of view, aren’t “scary”. Often, the simple thought of certain situations can trigger a whole anxiety/panic attack. To give you an example, the idea of taking a train leaves me petrified, despite being 100% aware that it’s completely irrational and that I have been on so many trains in the past, and even loved it at some point. Banks, public offices, restaurants, shopping centres, the list of places that I can only go to at the cost of putting myself under an incredible emotional stress could go on for pages. Of course, it isn’t always like this. Some days I can happily go to the mall and feel absolutely fine – and those days feel like winning the lottery to me. However, most of the times stepping into a mall makes me wonder “what the hell was I thinking when I decided to come here today?!”
- What does an anxiety attack feel like?
The symptoms of an anxiety/panic attack are different for everyone. In my case, I start to feel sick in my stomach, as if I was going to throw up, and/or I feel dizzy and weak and close to fainting. Your heartbeat speeds up, you get cold sweat and breathing becomes harder. A lot of times I just start to cry – which often makes me feel really embarrassed if I am with other people *hides*
- When you’re going through an attack, what do you find helps you the most calm down?
For me, it’s definitely getting out of whatever situation is giving me anxiety, even if just for a few minutes. If I am having a panic attack while I’m at, let’s say, the mall we were talking about earlier, I will need to go outside and away from people, sit down for a bit and just breathe and let my brain rest. If, instead, I am having anxiety when I am not in a triggering situation, but, for example, I am simply at home having triggering thoughts, I will try to calm down doing relaxation and breathing exercises. Going for a walk is often therapeutic for me, and lately I have seen benefits in doing some chill yoga routines as well. Of course, it’s never as simple as this (how I wish it was!) and most of the time I can only distract myself for a bit.
- What can friends do when anxiety hits?
This is something I wish more people asked, because not knowing how to act around someone who is having an anxiety attack, or just suffers from anxiety in general, can cause them so much more unnecessary pain. First of all, do not make them feel bad or guilty for having anxiety, as it is not something they want to have or can easily control. Give them time and space. Don’t keep telling them to be strong, to not be “so dramatic”, “everything is okay, look, do I seem scared? No, so why would you be?” (this is something I have been told and it made me feel way worse). Don’t force them to do something they don’t want or don’t feel like doing. Ask them if you can do something for them, and if they have requests (to have some water, maybe, or to help them get to a quiet place) do what they’re asking. However, if they don’t say anything, simply wait patiently. Sometimes talking to them calmly about random things, completely unrelated to the situation they’re in, can help. Other times, silence is all they need. Most importantly, never make them feel like they’re irritating or annoying you or like they are ruining the plans you had for that day or anything like that.
- Are you taking any medication and does it help a bit at least?
I am personally not taking any medication at the moment. I used to take calming pills but they made me feel really dopey (I almost slept at university during an exams because of them) and they didn’t seem to be helping me solve the problem. They would just make me sleep, I guess. I know some people get huge benefits from taking medication though, so I think it depends on what type of medication your therapist prescribes you.
I really want to thank everyone who sent me questions. Some were double or similar, so I condensed them into the same answer. I hope this first post was somewhat interesting and useful (for me it surely was helpful to start figuring out how to talk about these topics). Let’s try to create a more understanding and accepting society and raise awareness around mental health and mental disorders 😊