Anxiety - A guide for sufferers and their loved ones.

According to the dictionary, anxiety is a 'feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome'. On the outset, the definition is pretty accurate but anxiety goes way deeper than that. I don't claim to be an expert on this, at all, but I wanted to do something to help those unsure of the disorder. Whether they're in two minds about twhether they have it, or if you have a family member or friend who suffers, or if you - unfortunately - battle anxiety on a daily basis. I have suffered from generalised anxiety ever since I can remember and have gone through some really tough stages with it, but also learnt coping mechanisms to keep it under control. If I help at least one person with this post, I'll be happy. 

My definition of anxiety is a little different to what the dictionary tells us. It's goes a lot like this ... 'ETYOWIRGBJSBFOUIVIEPUQPIEG'. Honestly, there's no pinpointing the symptoms as they are quite different for everyone. There are the 'common' few side effects of the disorder which are experienced by a lot of anxiety sufferers, but then there are some that are considered rare. You can also identify whether the symptoms affect you emotionally and/or physically. Unfortunately for me, I struggle with both. Here's a list of some of the things you may go through when feeling anxious.

Apprehension or dread
Trouble concentrating
Zoning out 
Getting upset/crying 

Fast heart rate
Shaking - Spasms or Tremors
Muscle Tension 

I've listed only a few symptoms, but if you feel like you fall under some of them, just keep on reading. Don't worry, anxiety is a lot more common than even I first thought.

There's no saying what causes individuals anxiety, the spectrum is so big it's difficult to pinpoint. Every person will have their own reason as to why they feel anxious, and they'll have different coping mechanisms that are best suited to them. So, to give you an idea of what can trigger it, I'm going to talk through - very briefly I hope - my experience with anxiety and try my best to describe the process of an anxiety attack.

As stated above, I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I don't remember much about my early experience with the disorder but I do know that I would have attacks quite regular, especially when going to school. There were a few times I refused to go, or I'd scream the place down until I could go home. I was described as a very 'nervous child', and I remember my Mum turning to proffessionals for advice. As time went on, I never knew it was anxiety, I just knew something wasn't right, but no-one actually sat me down and told me until I went to the doctors at the beginning of this year. 

Time passed and my anxiety would constantly fluctuate depending on how my life was going, I guess. When I was struggling the most with my depression, my anxiety became so bad that I didn't want to leave the house in fear of having a panic attack in public. I would cancel plans, prolong things and basically try anything to avoid my anxiety. Unfortunately, I really didn't go the right way about it but I did eventually keep it under control, only really having an attack 3-4 times a year.

I wasn't until about 6 months ago when I realised that I was falling back into it. It was completely out of my control and my body would react before my mind would. It got to the point where I couldn't hide it anymore as I was having attacks in front of the people in my life, and that absolutely terrified me. I began to have more attacks within a short space of time and I finally realised I needed to put in some sort of action plan when I had three panic attacks lasting 2 hours in the space of 48 hours. Brutal, right? 

My triggers vary. I can be having a perfectly normal day then BAM, I'll have an attack for no reason. Or, I can be upset or mad over something and I will sit and think it over which then results in an attack. I can be unsure of my surroundings or unsure of how to do something/get somewhere and again, another attack. I could be thinking about a previous attack and trick myself into thinking it's happeneing again. I've also learnt that I'm more prone when I'm tired or when I drink alcohol. As I said, they vary a lot, sometimes without explanation - which causes a lot of frustration. 

An anxiety attack can be mild or severe. I've had my fair share of both but they pretty much start out the same and end differently depending on how quickly I can take control. The first symptom for me is a fast heart rate. My heart will beat faster and harder then usual, which then leads to a shortness of breath. When in a full blown attack, I find it very difficult to keep balanced when I'm stood up and all of my muscles tense up. I become very emotional and end up crying for a lot of the time - which is mostly frustration that it's happening again. I also find it hard to communicate as I spend a lot of the time trying to control my breathing. And that's the biggie, my breathing becomes very erratic and it takes a while for me to breathe at a normal rate. That's pretty much it I guess, it may not sound all that bad but no-one will ever understand how it is unless they've suffered from an attack before. After I've calmed down, I spend the rest of the day exhausted, my muscles ache and I completely zone out. So, there's all the technical stuff out of the way. I want to take you through coping mechanisms and how to not let your anxiety take over. 

I hope this will help sufferers, but also inform those who aren't too sure how to handle a situation when someone is having a panic attack. 

  • Breathe. It sounds so so cliche but honestly, sorting out your breathing is so important. For a while, I was able to steady my breathing pretty well just by simply inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 7. Unfortunately that no longer worked and I was introduced to a little 'game' by my cousin who helped me through an attack. Find something you can throw, anything and pass it between yourself and another person. When you throw it, inhale and exhale when you catch it. It gives you a distraction and kind of steadies your breathing without you realising.
  • Find your safe place. Mine is my bedroom. Whenever you feel an attack brewing, get yourself to the place where you find comfort and feel secure. Once you're in that environment, you'll find solace in the fact that you're somewhere familair and you know you're not in any immediate danger. If you're having an attack in public, go somewhere calming, like the library. It is difficult but make sure you're somewhere you know.
  • Distractions. Take advantage of what you love to do in your spare time. Read your favourite book, draw, write, curl up bed with a cuppa and your favourite film. Sleep also - going to bed helps especially if tiredness can be a trigger, go for a walk or a run, listen to some music. Seriously, anything you enjoy when you're in a calm state, will help bring you back to reality. Oh and these adult colouring books are a gift from God, I swear. They're incredibly relaxing and they even have some designed for anxiety suffferers. I strongly recommend them.
  • Surround yourself with people who understand. Educate those who spend a lot of time with you. Family, fellow student, partners, work collegues and friends. They need to know about it if your attacks are quite frequent. You may find that some people aren't so understanding of it but it really is just a case of ignorance, unfortunately. I've had my fair share of disputes with people who never understood it and on the odd occasion, I have cut them out of my life. However, you'll find those absolute diamonds who really help to push you through it. Give them instructions on what to do if you're having an attack. I recently shouted at my boyfriend during an attack because he was rubbing my chest, but he knew that in the spur of the moment, it's ok to tell them if they're doing something wrong. I recently had to tell my work place of my disorder, which is not something I ever wanted to do, but now even though they may not get it, they know its there.
  • Just a quick tip for those who are around someone who is suffering from an attack - just be there, don't bombard them with questions and don't dismiss the attack either. They will tell you if you're doing something wrong, but don't be offended if they seem angry at you, they're not. Reassure them you're there for them, ask them if they need anything and just wait it out. You can try to help them steady their breathing but really, they will just appreciate your presense if thats what they need.

I've spent a lot of my life being ignorant to how common and how debilitating anxiety is. It is a mental illness and it needs a hell of a lot more awareness that what it gets. I just want you to know that if you suffer from anxiety, ask for help. I recently went to my GP who reffered me to a psychiatrist and also prescribed me medication. I didn't go down the medication route - I don't really believe in fixing things with pills. But I know that help is there if I ever need it. I have gained control over my disorder again but for me, anxiety never really goes away. I question things, I think I'm annoying people, I'm scared to ask questions and sometimes I feel like I'm being questioned by others. I know I'll have this for the rest of my life but I feel really optimistic that if I go through a bad stage like I did at Christmas, I can get through it with the help and support of others, but also with the self belief and strength that I have. 

I really hope this post has helped some of you, and I want you to know that I'm always willing to help those who are suffering too. Anxiety can be very isolating but you really shouldn't suffer in silence. You are in control, don't forget that. Don't let your anxiety take over. Here's a little something

 A bit of a deep post for a Tuesday evening but like I said, I hope it's helped. Whether you've been educated or had a realisation, thank you for reafing. Keep an eye out for next weeks post!
Until then, you can find me on twitter and instagram 

Love, Melissa x

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