Today we are back with our third panic attack series guest post. This week the post is from the lovely Chloe. I really like the psychological perspective she has given to her post.
1. Where were you/What were you doing when you had a panic attack and how did it make you feel?
I had my first ever, public panic attack when I was at college doing my A Levels. I was sat inside my ICT classroom, I could hear everybody talking and chattering. There were no problems, I was just sat there doing my work until I felt my heart start to beat out of my chest. My vision went blurry, my head started to spin and the sound of everybody talking was amplified. I was disoriented to the extent that I probably wouldn’t be able to hear anybody around me shout my name. It was a very strange sensation, like I was outside of my own body – I wondered what on earth was going on!
2. How did you deal with it and did anyone/anything help you/ease how you felt?
Nobody really noticed my panic attack as everybody was busy talking and doing their own thing. I put my head on the table in order to let the blood flow to my head (as I am prone to fainting as well, I wanted to make sure the two didn’t occur together) and did my best to breathe slowly. I covered my ears after a while to get rid of the sound.
3. Have you/would you do the same activity/go to the same place again despite this?
Fortunately, I never have to go back to school again! 😉 Although, I understand what you’re trying to get and the answer is yes. There was nothing actually anxiety-provoking around the situation that I was in, which was strange. Usually certain things trigger my panic attacks now. When something minor goes wrong I tend to have an exaggerated response. I do tend to be more aversive with certain situations, which is really bad!
4. Despite what happened, take three positives that you learnt/experienced from what happened.
Hindsight is really a wonderful thing; at the time I was just wondering what was happening to me. One of the positives is that I now understand my limits and boundaries. I’ve had panic attacks in situations where there’s lots of people talking around me multiple times now, and I understand that this is something overwhelming for me and I try to rationalize it out for myself.
Additionally, I’ve learnt that I can recover from a panic attack. I can get back on my feet and continue with my previous tasks fairly quickly, as long as I’m strategic and manage to rationalize things out properly. Nowadays, my panic attacks tend to be more severe when I have them and there’s no chance that one would go un-noticed. So fortunately I can be supported to get back on my feet and continue with the task. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved!
From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is actually beneficial because it makes us more averse to risk, and the fight or flight response to hazards occurs more often and more quickly!
5. What is your top piece of advice to people going into similar situations who might also be anxious about it?
I’m not a qualified psychologist so please don’t take this for certain. But I believe that avoiding situations that evoke panic attacks for you, actually with time can make you worse. I understand that avoiding it reduces panic attacks, but it serves as negative reinforcement. Which means that the removal of a negative feeling/behaviour (in this case, avoidance of a panic attack) means that you’re more likely to complete that action again in future (e.g. avoiding the situation!). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the more you avoid the situation, the more difficult and the more anxiety-provoking it will be to face in future. I think the best thing to do is gradually expose yourself with what gives you anxiety until you’re able to become comfortable with it. (Phew, studying psychology at university came in useful somewhere!).
ALSO: It does get better, your anxiety won’t control your life forever. Trust me!
6. Is there anything else you would like to add/include?
Remember that you are not defined by your anxiety. You are still you!