What Is A Panic Attack?

First thing’s first – what is a panic attack? The HSE say that a panic attack is ‘a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.’ That definitely sounds unpleasant but if you’ve never experienced a panic attack, it can be difficult to imagine what that actually feels like. If I have a loved one who would like to understand I ask them to imagine the thing they truly fear the most in the world and then imagine how they would feel if that thing were to actually happen. Now imagine feeling that level of intense fear and anxiety totally out of the blue. Imagining it is obviously not entirely the same thing but it goes some way towards helping them understand. (I just want to point out that I don’t go around asking people to think of the thing that scares them the most because that’s not nice, please don’t do that! However, if a loved one specifically asks then I’ll broach it.)

There are a ton of symptoms that come with panic attacks and different people experience different ones. Symptoms can include:

  • A racing heart, a pounding heart or palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling short of breath or as though you can’t get enough oxygen
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too fast which speeds up heart rate)
  • A sensation of choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • A fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • A fear of dying

Given the symptoms, it’s not surprising that many people think they are having a hear attack but it’s important to know that a panic attack will not kill you.

Panic itself is a good thing, it’s kept us alive for years. The ‘fight or flight’ response alerts us to potential danger and allows us to act in an appropriate manner. However, problems arise when this response is switched on when there’s no need, when there is no danger. It’s almost like a house or car alarm going off without reason.

There isn’t a definite answer as to why panic attacks occur*. Some people have specific triggers that they can easily identify such as particularly stressful events (losing a job, death of a loved one, etc) or major life changes (graduating college/uni, having a baby, getting married, etc). Panic attacks can also present with other illnesses. For example, a person with social anxiety disorder may have a panic attack before they’re due to give a presentation. Those who have experienced a panic attack may be so fearful and anxious about having another one that they develop panic disorder.

So, what can you do if you have a panic attack?

  • Try to remember that the panic attack can’t hurt you. It is no doubt unpleasant and frightening but you will be okay.
  • If you are hyperventilating try to focus on slowing your breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 1, breathe out for 4.
  • Try to focus on something other than the panic attack. Pick an object nearby and notice everything about it. Describe it to yourself in as much detail as possible. Sometimes drawing your attention away from the panic attack can stop it.
  • If your surroundings aren’t what triggered the panic attack pay attention to them. Do your best to ground yourself wherever you are. For example – I’m safe, I’m sitting at home, there’s nothing here that will hurt me, the tv is on, I can hear the clock, I can hear the birds outside, I know this place, I’m safe.
  • If your surroundings are causing your panic attack try closing your eyes (if it’s safe to do so!). Sometimes reducing stimuli can stop a panic attack.

If you’re experiencing panic attacks speak to your healthcare provider. There’s no need to be embarrassed about having panic attacks. Around 2.4 million Americans experience panic disorder in a given year** so you’re not alone and it’s likely that your doctor will be familiar with them. There are medications that can be used to help treat chronic panic attacks (panic disorder) as well as a number or therapies such as CBT or DBT so don’t feel like you’ll be stuck having them forever.

I lived with panic disorder for almost ten years. When it was at it’s worst I had several panic attacks every single day. It was so bad for me because initially I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t have help. However, once I did have support and I was able to educate myself I found that the panic attacks subsided. I haven’t had one in almost five years but if I was to have one, I’d know how to deal with it. It can get better, there is hope.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. Panic attacks are truly exhausting so give yourself a break! Take time to recover. If you are a loved one of someone who experiences panic attacks, keep in mind that they’ll probably be emotionally and physically drained after experiencing a panic attack, they may also be fearful of having another so do your best to let them know you’re there to support them.

*https://www.psycom.net/what-does-a-panic-attack-feel-like/

**http://www.fearclinic.ufl.edu/PanicDisorders.html

Need help or advice? Click here for a list of support charities and organisations.

5 Tips For Stress Reduction

Mental Health Ireland describe stress as ‘A feeling of being under abnormal pressure…caused by anything from an increased workload, to an argument with a family member, to financial worries.’

It’s something we’re all familiar with and we all cope with to varying degrees. Below are some ways to help reduce that stress and hopefully begin to feel a little better.

Exercise: We all know we should be getting daily exercise anyway but many of us don’t. Personally speaking, when I’m feeling down/unwell/stressed exercise is one of the first things to go out the window and that really shouldn’t be the case! If, like me, you struggle to stay motivated try to make your exercise something you actually enjoy doing – yoga, cycling, dancing, walking the dog, team sports, a group class, swimming…the options are endless! Exercise doesn’t have to include a gym or a big financial output. Take some time to figure out what works for you and your situation.

man running up steps

Write things down: If you can’t get something off your mind don’t just ruminate on it, get it out of your head. Sometimes you don’t want to share your stresses with a loved one but you still want to get them out. Try keeping a journal, write and write and write until all of those thoughts are out on a piece of paper. I find it much easier to organise myself and find clarity when I can see my thoughts written out in front of me. Maybe that could work for you too? Or even consider writing down all the things that are bothering you and then ripping up the piece of paper – it can be a nice little ‘f*** you!’ to whatever has been bothering you!

person writing

Laugh – There’s a reason people take part in those somewhat bizzare laughter yoga sessions! It’s been claimed that laughter reduces stress, boosts the immune system and even relieves pain. Why not give laughter therapy a go? Watch your favourite comedies, go to a show, do something fun with a friend (bonus points for spending time with a loved one!). Or maybe even check out that laughter yoga!

two women laughing

Spend time with others: Being part of a social circle can help foster a sense of belonging. Social support should never be underestimated, having someone you trust to turn to during difficult times can be invaluable. Most of us would be familiar with the old saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Often, it’s true but even just spending time friends or family can help you feel better, even if you don’t share. So, grab some friends and go for a pint, get a coffee, go to the cinema or have a night in – whatever suits!

group of friends

Change: If your stress is caused by your lifestyle consider making some changes. Would being more organised help? Could you delegate some duties at home or at work? Do you need to learn to say no sometimes? Do you need to find a way to get more sleep or downtime? Could your diet do with an overhaul? Maybe you need to change a few things. If it’s something really pressing obviously deal with that first, otherwise, start small. You’ll be more likely to stick to changes you make if you take your time and change in small steps. Change can be difficult so be kind to yourself. And remember, counselling isn’t just for those experiencing a mental health difficulty like depression or bipolar disorder. It can be for anyone who needs it so if you’re feeling overwhelmed consider some professional help.

signpost

How have you reduced stress in your life? Share your tips below! 

A Conversation With My Social Anxiety

2:am, in bed.

Steph: I’m so tired

Anxiety: But there are so many mistakes that we haven’t thought about yet.

Steph: No, I’m going asleep.

Anxiety: Hey, you know that presentation you’ve got to do in five weeks?

Steph: ….yeah?

Anxiety: You’re going to be terrible at it. You’ll definitely mess it up. Everyone else is going to think you’re so stupid, they’re going to laugh at you.

Steph: You don’t know that, it’ll probably be fine.

Anxiety: Will it though?

Steph: ffs

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: Remember last week when you tried to pay for that jumper and you gave them the wrong amount? HA! What kind of eejit does that?! Bet they thought you were an idiot, they probably had a good laugh about you with their mates!

Steph: It was just a mistake. Anyone could make that mistake.

Anxiety: Could they though?

Steph: ….maybe.

Anxiety: Don’t forget that you’ve to make that phone call tomorrow.

Steph: Why do you have to bring this up now? I just want to sleep.

Anxiety: Bet your voice will shake and you’ll forget what you’re supposed to say.

Steph: If I’m nervous I’ll just write down the main points before I make the call.

Anxiety: Who does that?! A script to make a phone call – really? How sad is that? You won’t be able to do it, just like you won’t be able to do the presentation. You can’t even pay for something in a shop without fucking it up! Even children can do that right. You fail at everything. It’s who you are – a failure. What have you got to show for yourself after 26 years? Not a lot! Everyone else is doing great, they graduated college or they’ve got full time jobs. They’re having a great time, it’s all over Facebook and Instagram. You can’t even order a drink on a night out and don’t get me started on how you act around new people or Ian’s friends! I bet they all make fun of you behind your back, they must hate you…

Steph: You’re right.

Please know that I’m well now but these were the kind of thoughts I would have every single day. Living with an anxiety disorder is so exhausting. Imagine fighting with your mind every day, that’s what it feels like. Some days (or weeks or months) you don’t win, anxiety does and you believe those thoughts, you start to accept that false narrative as truth. It’s a struggle to turn that inner conversation around, a struggle that most people don’t see. It takes time, practice and persistence, sometimes it take professional help but it is possible.

Also, please know that my boyfriend’s friends are sound people and it’s unlikely that they make fun of me behind my back and the people I go to college with are a lovely, supportive bunch!

Talk Therapy – Benefits and Misconceptions

Note: this post is discussing private psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counselling, rather than therapy accessed through public healthcare such as the HSE or NHS.

According to a study conducted by the University of California – Los Angeles, verbalising our emotions makes our negative feelings such as sadness, anger and pain less intense. Furthermore, putting our feelings into words – talking to a therapist or friend helps us to feel better.

Talk therapy is especially useful for those experiencing a mental health difficulty such as an anxiety disorder or depression. A therapist provides a confidential, safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings. They can be a sounding board, someone to guide you through difficult feelings and someone to offer a different perspective, one that you might not consider on your own.

Therapy is also helpful for anyone struggling to manage emotions and stressors, even the ones that aren’t life altering or traumatic. It can help an individual establish and maintain better emotional wellness.

Counselling is generally confidential*, so there’s no fear of having a therapist tell the world about the difficulties you are experiencing. Therapists/counsellors must adhere to a code of ethics which protects both themselves and the client. Some of the things usually outlined in this is the client’s right to respect, dignity and confidentiality along with continued education/supervision for the therapist.**

There are some misconceptions about this kind of therapy –

  • A therapist won’t magically ‘fix’ all of your problems for you but they will facilitate conversation to help you navigate your own way through them while offering support and a listening ear.
  • Therapy is not lying on a couch or some strange Freudian dream, it will likely involve both parties having a conversation while sitting opposite each other. However, most therapists will be open to you sitting in whatever way is comfortable for you.
  • Therapy is not for ‘crazy’ people. All sorts of people attend talk therapy for a whole host of reasons. Mental ill health/a diagnosed mental health condition, a major life transition, relationship difficulties, grief and difficulty coping with every day stress are just some of the reasons people seek the help of a professional therapist.
  • Therapy is a waste of money when you could just speak to your friends or family. True, you could speak to your friends or family and it definitely is important to have supportive relationships with people you can trust. However, a therapist has training and experience that loved ones don’t and they are a neutral party capable of making objective observations because their relationship with you is not clouded by emotion.

When looking for a therapist/counsellor you should always seek someone who is fully qualified. In Ireland, qualified counsellors are accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The IACP provide a directory of professionals on their website where you can search by location, see what each therapist specialises in and access their contact details.

*A counsellor/therapist may break confidentiality when required to do so by law or when they believe that a client may cause harm to themselves or others.

**To view the IACP Code of Ethics click here.

Need advice or help? Click here for a list of charities and organisations who could help. Alternatively, click ‘directory of professionals’ above to access a list of therapists in Ireland.

My Mental Health Story Reaction & Update

Hi guys!

It’s been a few days since I shared my mental health story with you all. As I said, I’ve been blogging about mental health and wellness for quite a while now but I usually only focus on one particular issue at a time so I’d never shared everything before. Right now I am well and that’s been the case for the last couple of years so I haven’t had to think about some of the stuff in that post for quite a while. Writing it all out took three days because I found that I needed a couple of breaks and it took a few goes to make sure everything was in order and made sense. Part of maintaining wellness is knowing when enough is enough, it’s knowing when you need to say no to something or keep it for another day which is exactly what I did!

I’ve recieved some absolutely lovely messages since I shared my experiences with you guys. I’ve had friends sending on their words of encouragement, my usual Twitter gang offering words of support and even total strangers sharing their own stories with me.

One thing I do want to say is that you don’t have to share your experiences if you’re not ready or if you just don’t want to. Don’t be pressured in to sharing these things, it’s up to you to decide when you share that information and that’s if you decide to share at all. For me, it was a little draining and anxiety inducing which is why I hadn’t shared before now. When I first started blogging I probably couldn’t have handled writing that post, never mind sharing it! It wasn’t the right time then but it is now.

I had a super busy weekend so I haven’t managed to get back to everyone just yet but I promise I will. Tomorrow is a college day for me which I’m really looking forward to. Having the opportunity to study Mental Health is amazing. I’ve wanted this for a really long time but I put it off because other people were telling me that it wouldn’t be for someone like me and I listened to them. As a result, I wasted a lot of time and money trying to do other things that I just wasn’t passionate about. I did learn a lesson though – I should trust myself more.

Anyway, that’s me for now. Thank you again for all of your loveliness these last few days, I really do appreciate it.

If you need help/advice you can find a list of organisations and charities here.

This Month I’m Grateful For…(September)

Time for some reflection! Keeping a gratitude diary really helps me stay positive. Here’s a round up of some of the things I was grateful for last month:

  • The chance to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while – we message pretty much every day but nothing beats actually getting to spend time together.
  • A health scare that was nothing more – waiting for results is always difficult but thankfully everything is okay.
  • A good first day at college and meeting the lovely people there – I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever been part of such a supportive class before. It makes attending classes late on Tuesday nights and early on Saturday mornings a little easier!
  • The honor of being asked to be a bridesmaid at a friends wedding – it’s definitely anxiety inducing, I’ve turned down the opportunity to be a bridesmaid and a godmother before but it’s a while away so I have time to figure out how to deal with it.
  • Learning – because I’m a nerd! I’ve always loved learning new things and I always want to know more. Learning keeps me well, I like to feel like I’m using my mind. Going back to college, some new books and great Twitter chats have led to me learning a lot in September.

What things were you grateful for in September? Share them with me below!