I had an anxiety attack yesterday.
It happened out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. I was just feeling “nervous” and felt pins and needles and numbness in strange parts of my body – on my upper lip, the area between my eyebrows on my forehead and nose bridge, my ears, outer areas of my arms just right above the elbows, back of my head. I was sweating. Felt a little dizzy and nauseous, felt like a diarrhoea was coming. Thankfully, it was quite a low-key (but long drawn) one and I was, in a strange way, calm enough to remember what to do when I start feeling this way – distract myself, talk to myself, observe the surroundings, get comfortable, BREATHE. And most importantly, tell myself that this is temporary and it will soon pass.
I think a lot of people could confuse regular stress or fear with an attack of this sort. Until you’ve felt it before, I don’t really know how to explain the difference. I once had an anxiety attack WHILE eating wanton noodles at Holland Village food centre, no apparent triggers or anything, and I was actually having a good time but it just happened out of the blue.
I read somewhere that once you’ve had an anxiety/panic attack before, chances are, it will happen again. There is also this fear of it happening again (and this does not help at all). I thought it’ll be good to share how it feels like so people know how it’s like to have an anxiety attack, or, if you are around someone having an anxiety attack, how you can help.
There had been times when it happened and my friends got really worried about me because I suddenly just wanted to lie down in a cafe (I put a few chairs together and did lie down, and started a video on my phone and started watching it). People would tell me to “Relax” or “Don’t think so much”, “Don’t worry” or kept asking “Are you ok? Are you ok?”. All were done with good intentions, but sometimes they’d just make me feel worse. I knew I would’ve done the same for a friend if I am unfamiliar with what he/she is going through.
I remember the first time I felt this way. I travelled alone to Dublin on a media trip; jetlagged, tired, all was good until I headed out at the destination for a little walk and got coffee, and then it hit me. This irrational fear of “I am alone in a foreign city”, suddenly thinking about the many things to do, thinking about home. The more these thoughts come, the more nervous I felt, and psychological state started to present itself physically – I had to take deep, big breaths like yawns to take in more air, my hands started shaking, heart racing.
It got really bad at the first dinner during the trip, I excused myself to return to the hotel on my own first. Called Emma over the phone and she spoke to me for quite a while. I remember watching Project Runway on the television too. I knew I just needed to distract myself. Eventually, I slept it off.
1 to 2 years later, I encountered the worst bout of a panic attack I ever gotten. I woke up in the middle of the night covered in cold sweat, gasping for air. My heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it was going to pop out of my chest. Numbness in my limbs and face. I thought I was having a heart attack and I was very close to waking my mother up (in hindsight, I am glad I did not because she would have freaked out and that would’ve definitely made matters worse). I stumbled into the kitchen to get a snack and water, put on something random on Netflix and started talking to myself out loud:
“There are 5 people in this scene. The table is round, she is eating a dessert.”
I look around my room, touched the things around me and verbalised how every item felt physically.
I was eating (I remember it was a lo po peng) and my hands were shaking so hard the flakes ended up all over the place. I honestly thought I was going to die, with lo po peng in my hand, on my bed, “in my sleep”.
The important thing for me is recognising that it is temporary. I WILL NOT DIE.
It had always been helpful for me to start distracting myself and quit thinking about what’s happening in my head. Afterall, our body, mind and breath has a close relationship – your thoughts, your breathing, your physical state all affect each other directly – that’s why you might “feel cold” when you are meditating, or, breathe faster when you are having angry thoughts.
There are many articles online that recommends ways to get over a an anxiety or panic attack, or also some lifestyle changes that one can look into – less alcohol, less caffeine, practise mindfulness, meditate, regular exercises.
I am grateful for people who stay calm FOR me when I am obviously losing my shit inside my head. Sometimes, talking to me helps, other times, I just want to be left alone. Sometimes, I like to be touched physically, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s important to ask what the other person needs. BUT, being around that person and assuring him/her that you will be around is crucial, for me at least.
There are many articles online that explains some possible causes and coping mechanisms for anxiety and panic attacks.