Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Topical Tuesdays: How To Deal With Anxiety, Panic Attacks & Depression

Image taken from nation-health.blogspot.com 

Hello lovelies! So todays' topic is one that is very personal and something that has affected my day-to-day living since I was 13. So please appreciate that this isn't going to be the easiest post for me to write. However I believe it is important for me to share my views and offer advice for those of you who have also been unfortunate enough to have been diagnosed with a panic disorder or depression. So here goes..

For the past 9 years my life hasn't been particularly easy on me. There are many reasons for this but I'll just give you the general outline. I was bullied at school. I've always been underweight and find it very difficult to put on weight. Because of this people are forever making assumptions that I have an eating disorder which is something that really got me down. I went through 2 very bad break ups and felt like all guys were just gonna treat me like poo. My parents also went through a divorce which was difficult but a relief as I spent most of my childhood trying to get away from all the arguments. I had to be the grown up of the house and help my mum out at home as she had become ill. There are many other things that happened during this period but I won't go in to them all as some are particularly personal and that's not what this post is about. I'm not writing this for sympathy, I just wanted to give you guys some idea of why and how my panic disorder and depression began so that I can try to help any of you who may going through a tough time.

What with all the stress I was having to deal with I started to feel pretty down. I didn't think too much of it at the beginning I just thought it was because I had a lot to deal with. I also found myself crying at really random things. I thought it was just my hormones playing up so again didn't think too much of it. Then one day I was out shopping. I'd never had a phobia of being out or being in a crowded place but all of sudden I just had to get out of there! My heart was racing, I began to sweat, I felt sick and shaky and had to run to the nearest toilet, I just had to get out of there! All these thoughts started running through my head. "What if I can't get home?" "What if something happens to me?" "I'm so scared! Why do I feel like this?!" I felt like I was gonna throw up! I didn't understand where this feeling had suddenly came from. After 10 minutes in the loo trying to calm myself down it eventually passed. But what the hell had happened to me? And why was I feeling this way? 

After explaining what had happened to my mum, I found out I'd had my first panic attack. So I thought I'd begin a little research of my own. It turns out that panic attacks can happen completely out of the blue, even if you were previously feeling fine. The body believes it is suddenly in danger and so produces a load of adrenaline (the stuff that makes your heart beat really fast and gives you that "panicky feeling"). This was pretty scary reading and I wondered if I'd have to deal with panic attacks for the rest of my life. With this and everything else that was going on in my life I found myself crying almost everyday. I felt isolated and alone. No matter who I told, I felt they didn't understand, even if they'd been through it themselves. I felt like everyone would judge me and say I'm mad for feeling this way. I avoided situations like crowds or talking to new people as I was scared I'd have a panic attack and make a fool of myself. I just felt completely hopeless and didn't know where to turn. So after 7 years (I know, a long time) I decided it was time to seek professional help. It took a lot, but I made myself go to the doctors and tell them how I was feeling. They were surprisingly helpful and not at all judgmental. They explained that it was completely normal to suffer from anxiety and depression and that I may benefit from some counselling. 

It seemed like one of the hardest things to do. To open myself up to a complete stranger and fear that they would judge me or think me crazy, but it was a step I had to take. At first I felt a bit uncomfortable, not knowing what they might ask me but after 10 minutes I was telling them my life story! My counsellor was amazing and gave me some great advice on how to deal with the panic attacks. If you're feeling really down or think you might be suffering from panic disorder too then please make an appointment with your GP and they can refer you to a counsellor. It'll be a hard first step but it'll be worth it! If this doesn't appeal to you there are loads of other ways to get help including pills for anxiety or hypnotherapy. I didn't want to go down the pill-popping route straight away as it seemed a little scary but I was open to all offers of help and just had to see which worked best for me personally. I'm still seeing my counsellor now and am even thinking of going to my first group session with people who are just like me. I still get panic attacks but I've learnt to cope with them in a better way. 

So if you think you may have panic disorder but aren't quite sure here are a few of the key signs:
Feeling dizzy and light-headed
Feeling sick - This is because your digestive system shuts down during a panic attack and this causes you to feel like you may be sick or need to rush to the loo!
Increased heartbeat - This is because your body is trying to prepare you take action also know as fight or flight. This means that your body is deciding whether to run away from the situation or fight it. 
Shaking and trembling
Feeling like you have no control over the situation you're in or having a fear that you can't escape
Fast breathing/feeling like you can't breathe - This is because your heart rate has increased causing you to feel out of breath
Numb/tinging hands and feet - This is because during a panic attack the blood tends to rush to one area therefore causing other areas to feel numb and strange
Feeling tired or exhausted - Panic attacks are essentially how the body acts during exercise and therefore can be pretty draining.

If any of this sounds familiar to you don't worry you are most certainly not alone! 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness. I know, there they are, those 2 little words that horrify everybody, but depression, panic disorder and anxiety are all forms of mental illness. It in no way means that you are mad but that you may have had a lot to deal with in your life and they are completely normal reactions to a build up of stress from every day life. Remember, you didn't ask to feel this way, nobody does so never blame yourself because it is in no way your fault. You should feel proud of yourself. Yes some people may live their lives never having had a single panic attack and these people are very lucky indeed, but you are such a strong person for having to cope with this disorder! Each time you cope well with a panic attack give yourself a pat on the back because you damn well deserve it, I should know! 

When my anxiety was at it's worse, so was my depression. I was too scared to go out and do things I used to enjoy. I felt like no one understood and just thought I was being rude when I declined invites out to places. This in turn made me feel even more depressed because I felt so alone. It was a viscous cycle.When you have a panic attack in a certain place or whilst doing a certain activity you will then relate your panic to that place and run from it. If you are ever in that place/situation again it will be in the back of your mind that you will have another attack and therefore you will avoid it. My best advice to give anyone suffering from this is to not run away from the situation. As hard as it may be try to keep calm and carry on as normal. If you act like nothing is happening your brain will eventually get bored and realise there is nothing to panic about. So keep busy and the more you do this the easier it will be each time. Remember, as frightening as they may be, panic attacks won't actually kill you!

 I decided that I needed to take action. Why should I let my body control how I feel and my life? You only get one life and don't worry, I'm not about to say YOLO (that doesn't count right?) but you have to live it! Seize the day, carpe diem, etc etc! Okay I'm getting a bit cheesy now, but you get my point. Just decide today that you are not going to let yourself suffer anymore. I'm not saying it will be easy, but the best thing you can say to yourself is "Okay so I'm gonna panic sometimes and that sucks, but I don't have to be stuck in my house hiding away from life while it happens. If I'm gonna panic here, then I can panic somewhere else where I'm out, having a good time!" How long it takes to beat your disorder depends on how severe it is. Some people may find it easier than others, while some of you may take a little longer, but it doesn't matter. Be proud of every time you say no to panic attacks and yes to life! There are always bad days, but let's just write them off, eh? Let's focus on the positive things in life.

Image taken from www.sodahead.com

If this post helps just one of you I will be a very happy bunny. Feel free to ask questions and leave comments below. If you'd like to ask anything more personal and don't want to write it here feel free to email me, I reply to everyone!
Hope you're all having a fab day!
Kelly x

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