We love when people share their stories and contribute insight and knowledge to our blog. This powerful and emotive piece was written by the brilliant and strong Yarrow, who I am so proud to call my little sister. She came to me frustrated with how little knowledge there is in the community and at her school when it comes to anxiety and panic disorders and how people deal with panic attacks when they happen and really wanted to make a change with how these disorders were viewed and responded to. If you would like to contribute to Share Your Story or contribute an article please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us an ask here. Tess.
They often say its nothing. “You’re just a teenager”, “it’s just the hormones”, “you’re just overreacting”.
No one is overreacting. The paralysing feeling of anxiety is nothing to rationalise, minimise or generalise. The awful sickness and shaking you feel out of no particular reason- sometimes from a thought, a mood or maybe nothing at all, is not something that should be overlooked. The realisation that many in society are completely oblivious to how to deal with angst, panic attacks and the other fun things that come along with anxiety is a depressing one.
It’s odd that even on a day where nothing went particularly wrong; it can turn around so quickly.
On a stressful day where friends were fighting, I got asked to hand in my phone for using it in class. I started hyperventilating. So many assume you are overreacting from the seemingly small things that start your panic, but those small things are simply just a trigger. And once you start, it is so very difficult to stop. No one in my class knew what to do; they just kept touching me and telling me to breathe in properly. They didn’t know the fact of the problem was that I wasn’t breathing out. You suddenly stop caring if there is muck on your face or you’ve gone a delicate shade of blue and red from the hyperventilation, the dizziness often overwhelming everything makes you forget.
I scared my best friend; she had no idea what to do. I scared my teacher as she thought it was her fault for taking my phone. My class thought I had just gone slightly loopy. My hands were cramping so badly into my hands that my nails begun digging into my palms and making them bleed.
Thankfully as I ran into the bathroom, as I couldn’t face throngs of people who didn’t know what to do, I bumped into my sister, Tess. She managed to calm me down, reminding me to breathe out and took me away from the scrutiny of my school. She brought me to her art teacher’s staffroom and he told me that he too suffered from anxiety, and any time I needed him or help, never be afraid to ask.
I started hyperventilating again.
Even the realisation that you’re not alone, you’re not a different species of human can be a trigger. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bad once you’ve started. People like him and my sister make me grateful for even the little awareness of what to do, especially with panic attacks, within society.
Even so, more awareness NEEDS to be raised. The amount of diagnoses of a range of anxiety disorders is growing constantly. More medical attention about it is being brought forward and there is less dismissal of the subject in the medical field. I find it distressing and sad that a little amount of people in my school know how to deal with someone having a panic attack. As a student in year twelve, there are many breakdowns due to the immense stress and the lack of knowledge in this subject is outrageous.
Recently, a very composed friend of mine had a panic attack while in English at school. Her group of friends crowded around her, told her to breathe in, to calm down, not to worry- everything is going to be fine. Generally, when one is hyperventilating, they have past the point of worrying and have been welcomed into I-can-no-longer-function town. Even the simple knowledge of how to handle someone hyperventilating is crucial when dealing with a panic attack.
Do not tell them not to worry- trust me, they are well past that point.
Do not touch them. They already feel like they are suffocating, someone else’s clammy hands on their shoulders will not help the situation.
Speak calmly and slowly. They are already panicking and a high-pitched stressed out voice is not going to aid in calming them. If you rattle off instructions to them, let me assure you, they won’t hear you past their hyperventilation.
TELL THEM TO BREATHE OUT. In deep, slow breaths. Mostly the reason they are having this panic attack is the fact that they are NOT breathing out, and instructing them to breathe in will only make it more difficult to calm down. The extra oxygen they are inhaling is often what is making them so dizzy, and more of it will probably make them faint. So no.
Don’t judge. Even if you don’t understand as to why they are so panicked, there is a very good reason inside their head. They don’t need embarrassment of you witnessing them at an extremely vulnerable state to be amplified.
Just be there. Even if you’re not near them, just sitting calmly with a panicked individual, letting them know that you are there if they need you, is one of the most comforting things in the world.
Be patient. Wait it out. It will pass.
Even with these ‘instructions’, panic disorders vary from each individual. No person, or panic attack for that matter, is the same. The absolute best thing you can do for an individual suffering from anxiety is to learn the basics and just simply be there for them. The most comforting feeling is acceptance. When you know that there is someone behind you, supporting you even if everyone else thinks you’ve gone slightly insane makes a very stormy world a little better. There is more and more treatment available, and aiding an individual with an anxiety disorder to seek help is precious. Sometimes, it’s just hard to do it alone.
Anxiety is a horrible thing. It’s the thing that every chance you get, you try to wish away. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It’s often getting through the terrible parts of it which makes you stronger, more capable to deal with it.
Anxiety is an illness. Just like a broken leg that needs to be set straight. A person needs the people around them to be that cast, to be strong enough to support them and care for them at their lowest. Remember, knowledge is power. The amount of difference you could make by just knowing the basics of what to do when someone is having a panic attack or bad anxiety period is immensely powerful. Even if it doesn’t seem so at the time, they will definitely appreciate it.
Just having someone there is most important. Just be. That’s all you really need to do for someone. Try to understand, even if you don’t. There is a reason, no matter how trivial it may seem.
Be patient. Recovery takes time.