A Short Guide To Anxiety Attacks by soufex

Originally by soufex, posted on 8/9/2009

I am 19 years old and I’ve been living with clinical depression for around five years or so, and since the age of sixteen I have been having anxiety attacks – ‘panic attacks’ – ranging from once a year to several times a day. In any case, they suck, and are horrible for everyone involved. Anything can trigger them off, and in my experience they have lasted from 10 minutes or so, to several hours. I’ve been a few types of medication for them. I’ve had them at shows, at work, on train journeys, and in my own bedroom; in the company of complete strangers, my girlfriend, or no one at all. Sometimes I can tell when I’m going to have one, and other times they sneak up on me out of nowhere. The experiences can differ from person to person, but there are a few things that essentially happen to everyone:

  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
  • Loss of concentration or track of time
  • Nausea-inducing fear and/or terror

(The last one might sound a little harsh, but anxiety attacks are pretty terrifying, and personally, very embarrassing; breaking down in public is not my thing at all.)

My experience of an anxiety attack, in retrospect, is usually the same (excluding the times where I’ve been kicked in the head, because you never see that coming unless a security guard leaps in front of you). For some time before the attack, I’m generally very quiet and my attention span is much shorter than usual, and I find myself distant from, or disinterested by my surroundings. I get snappy with people, lose my temper quickly, or become apathetic or ignorant to whatever is going on around me. (At the time I really don’t know I’m doing this, but I’ve been told that I tend to display the same behaviour, and after the attack I realise I’ve probably been a proper bitch to anyone who happened to cross my path, which usually happens to be my rather suffering but incredibly patient and loving girlfriend…) Then, for the next however long, my skin (especially around my face) becomes tingly, and I generally curl up into a little ball and cry and hyperventilate until the attack is over, in which I am left twitchy and exhausted for quite some time. (The only good thing about them is that I sleep like the dead when I go to bed after one.)

An anxiety attack is basically the body’s means of protecting itself against a situation it feels it can’t handle, and the body’s natural instinct is to brace, and try and get more oxygen into the bloodstream. With this in mind, the next part is much like an airline safety card. Life does not come equipped with safety cards, however, so here is a short guide to dealing with someone having a panic attack from my personal experiences:

  • Make sure they can breathe. Get an oxygen mask, take them outside or to a clear area, hold them so they can’t constrict their breathing – whatever works. However, because they’re freaking the fuck out, they probably won’t be listening to any offers of ‘breathe in slowly’, do bear this in mind.
  • Find a balance in your tone of voice and actions – be firm enough to try and get their attention, but not so much that make the situation worse – yelling at a person who’s freaking out anyway doesn’t do much good.
  • Be patient. It’s horrible being trapped inside a panic attack, and it’s horrible watching someone else stuck in one, but eventually it will end and they will calm down. Don’t try and move them straight away, because they’ll probably be exhausted and shaky and standing them up will probably mean they’ll just fall flat on their ass again and funny as it might look, it hurts.
  • This isn’t necessary, but is (probably) appreciated: I’ve yet to have a panic attack, or meet anyone that experiences them, and hasn’t sobbed their fucking guts out during the attack, so try and find something to wipe all the ick and snot away with, either during the attack (if you can get in there) to make it easier to breathe through the nose; or after the attack, just because it’s grim having your face, hands, shirt, knees, and everything else covered in watery slime.

I hope this is helpful to anyone – I’m sure those of you who live with, or are people who have anxiety attacks already know the drill pretty well, but personally an Idiot’s Guide To Anxiety Attacks would have been hella useful for me in the beginning!

PS. Further reading:
Panic Attack and Anxiety Awareness
Wikipedia’s article on anxiety attacks

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