Okay so one of my new years resolutions this year was to try and get less stressed, to try and deal with anxiety better. So far, I think I am doing pretty well. I am getting less stressed at work (significantly helped by the fact that I am in the middle of a month long break from work) and I am trying to take this calm outlook to university. Yesterday a member of staff at university asked me what I thought I could do to make myself worry less, and be a less anxious person. My response was just to refer to myself as an anxious person. I will be happy if I can get through my assignments throughout this semester with less anxiety attacks than previously.
I don't know when my blog got so serious but I think this is something that is worth talking about. A friend and I had a conversation about our anxiety experiences, last week whilst waiting for a class to start at university. I was really proud that we had managed to discuss such an important subject between ourselves, and we realised we had very similar experiences. One thing she did say to me was that admitting she suffered with anxiety now made her less anxious on the basis that she had practised saying it. Talking to her made me realise that I did not need to be anxious about... being anxious.
What is anxiety and what are panic attacks?
Okay. The NHS website defines anxiety as 'a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe'. I think it's quite difficult to explain what anxiety feels like but this definition is pretty good.
Anxiety is an absolutely awful emotion, and it is uncontrollable but not unmanageable. It can occur in response to small issues such as an impending assignment, or having to go to work the next day, and larger issues such as job interviews. I know that we all experience anxiety and I really wish that I was one of the lucky people that are capable of remaining calm and collected most of the time. Instead, I suffer with panic attacks. They happen mostly at night. Anxiety is something that largely stays quiet for me, (a friend referred to it as mutable) as in I don't feel as though I can't get out of bed anymore. I have learnt to manage my anxiety using breathing exercises, and other methods. As I said, I am the most anxious and most prone to panic attacks when my head is tired out, at night. But for the most part, my anxiety is mutable and it is not as much of a problem to me as it used to be. However I do know that reading stuff about other people's experiences with anxiety was very helpful to me, especially when I was younger.
It was this video on high functioning anxiety that I watched last week that inspired me to write about this, and I think it explains what anxiety feels like and some of the thoughts that crop up frequently much better than I could. But I did come across a comparison between several mental illnesses and Winnie the Pooh characters. Of course this takes a little bit of fun out of the books that I loved as a child, but its definitely a plausible theory. Piglet is the figure suggested to represent generalised anxiety. If you don't mind cartoon characters being involved in an explanation of panic attacks and anxiety, then you can watch this video.
Zoella provides a description of what anxiety feels like to her, and interestingly is able to pinpoint where her own anxiety hails from.
“Imagine that your brain is filled with hundreds of filing cabinets full of different information. You have memories, things you’ve learnt..etc. Well, there is this one filing cabinet that stores every panic attack you have. Where you had it, what happened, who you were with, what you were doing, what you were eating, what you were drinking, everything. When you re-enter the same place, with the same people, or do the same thing, that cabinet unlocks, and releases the same adrenaline, and the same emotion. My brain thinks it’s protecting me, by making me “Fight or flight” in the same situation”.
Coping with anxiety?
The video I watched was accompanied by a text post that described high
functioning anxiety as 'feeling underqualified' to write a post on anxiety
because the individual was coping pretty well with it. But I wonder what
is classified as coping. I know that there a certain breathing exercises that help me, and that writing helps too. Writing it down as I am experiencing it is incredibly helpful. Like Zoella, I find that having an idea of how I am getting home from situations is helpful. I, however, do like having set times for things. I don't like having uncertain plans. I find if things are too relaxed and a sitation is lacking set parameters, it makes me uneasy. Different things will work for different people, and I am sure other people will find my comforts quite unsettling. This is okay.
It should be obvious by now that I read a lot, especially YA. It helps me to see my anxiety reflected within novels such as Jennifer Niven's All The Bright Places. Niven was able to eloquently express so many of my worries through her protagonist, Finch. That somebody understands enough to write, and have it published, is of a huge comfort.
How can I help somebody with anxiety?
Okay, I have never seen anybody else have a panic attack now that I think about it. But I have experienced panic attacks when I have been in public, and with other people. When I went to Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, I had a panic attack in the middle of H and M, in front of a friend I hadn't seen in years. I was very embarrassed but I can't even imagine what it must have felt like for her to see that. I know I wouldn't have known was to do if I were in her shoes.
I think the worst thing that you can do is be impatient, and intolerant. They will need you to stay calm, and supportive. Often, I just need some room to ride it out. However, supportive for me doesn't mean asking me a tonne of questions. I find that off putting and it makes me feel worse.
The most important thing is to avoid saying 'calm down', or asking them not to be anxious. This, my friend, is incredibly hard to do. How do I go from feeling embarrassed, and panicked, and to be honest like a total failure, to on top of the world and not anxious at all? The simple answer is that you can't and asking somebody who is suffering from a panic attack to not be anxious will only succeed in making them feel like a failure, and weak.
I read Zoella's list of recommendations for this part and number five on this list was my favourite:
'5. Find something positive in every experience. If the affected person is only able to go partway to a particular goal, such as the cinema or out for a coffee, consider that an achievement rather than a failure'.
The reason I have been referencing Zoella so much throughout this blog post was because in order to get this post to a standard I was happy with, I did a bit of reading around online. There are not many helpful and relatable posts around for people who suffer with anxiety. At least, they weren't relatable or helpful to me.
The one thing I did want to say is that you are not alone. I know that panic attacks and anxiety make me feel very alone and isolated, mostly because I find it difficult to talk about. But it is really important to remember that other people go through it. You are not weird, or alone. Panic attacks are so very common. And I have always hated the word normal. I had a teacher in high school that said to me that 'normal is a cycle on a washing machine'. I repeat that quite often, and its really important. There is no such thing as normal.
I know that panic attacks and having anxiety have the potential to diminish confidence and self esteem. But I cannot stress enough that they are manageable, and you are in control. I am guilty of putting myself in situations that I find uncomfortable for the sake of not disappointing other people. But you do not have to force yourself into these situations. To quote Zoella for the last time, 'you and your health are far more important than keeping someone else happy'.
I really hope that some part of this has been helpful. See you later guys, have a lovely evening! x
(Many thanks to the shr-inkingviolet xx)