This week is Mental Health Awareness week and the focus for 2023 is on anxiety.
We all know the classic techniques to help curb anxiety: box breathing, being in nature, body scan meditation.
But in reality, it can be hard to jump to a tool box when spiralling down an anxious pathway.
And, when you come out of the other side of a particularly anxious episode, it’s hard to work out what to do next.
We know we should be kind and gentle with ourselves, but all too often, we can fall into the traps of self-loathing, regret, rumination and catastrophising.
Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo, chartered psychologist, says: ‘If you have experienced a panic attack, there can sometimes be some feelings of guilt or embarrassment at having the actual attack, or in how you perceived you dealt with it.
‘Keep an eye on any thoughts of shame that can linger after a panic episode or period of anxiety. Acknowledging them rather than trying to ignore them helps.
‘The more we battle to push away negative thoughts or feelings, the larger or more powerful they can become.’
Dr Tara recommends talking about how you feel, and normalising the experience – you aren’t alone in going through this.
‘It is worth stating that if you are experiencing regular panic attacks and anxiety seek professional help to support you with this,’ she adds.
Three Metro.co.uk readers have their say on their next steps, after having anxiety.
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‘Running and colouring books give me an instant distraction’
Liv Norton, a 23-year-old PR based in London, has lived with anxiety for as long as she can remember, and her first panic attack happened aged 13.
She says: ‘I get anxious episodes anywhere from once in a fortnight to every night for a week.
‘The majority of the time I feel like my heart can’t stop beating, my hands are clammy, I feel like I could be sick, and like I have no control over anything.
‘The first thing I try to do is remind myself that this too shall pass and that it is only a matter of time.
‘I saw a quote once about “riding the wave” with anxiety and that resonated with me a lot.
‘I find a lot of people just say ignore it, but that doesn’t always work and, for me, learning to “ride the wave” of my anxiety has allowed me to feel less shame during these anxious episodes.’
Liv will try to spend time with others if that’s an option, as it’s easier to distract herself that way and avoid feeling ashamed.
‘Depending on who I’m with, I try to tell them how I’m feeling and if there is anything that loved one can do to make me feel better,’ she says, adding that people are usually happy to help.
She will also get fresh air, whether that’s a run, walk or sitting.
‘Another activity I find that works is colouring in – over the years I’ve bought some colouring books and I have found concentrating on that is a great way to settle my mind and find a flow,’ she adds.
‘Usually after an anxious episode I get annoyed with myself as I know there are people in the world who have bigger problems than I do, but that usually makes me then feel worse.
‘To combat this, I remind myself that, even if what I am anxious about might seem silly to some people, my feelings are all totally valid and anxiety comes in all forms.’
‘I have a CBD drink to help me sleep’
Alisha*, a 28-year-old from London who is on anxiety medication, had her first experience of anxiety while at college, aged 18.
‘I get anxious episodes fairly often, though fortunately I’ve only ever had about four real panic attacks,’ she says.
‘My panic attacks are quite simply debilitating – I lose my hearing, my vision goes very dark, I overheat and start to sweat all over and I feel like I’m dying.’
She finds them ‘terrifying’ and feels as though she’s ‘lost completely control’.
‘My anxiety episodes are different – I just feel like something really bad is going to happen,’ Alisha adds.
‘I have a gut feeling, I get a dry mouth, and I just need to lay down and distract myself with something that makes me feel happy (usually with my pet or an episode of a light hearted show).’
After a bout of anxiety, she resorts to square breathing to get grounded, and will talk to her husband about what she’s thinking.
He asks her if she wants comfort or advice, which she says is one of the best things you can offer a person with anxiety.
‘I also listen to my favourite music and go for a walk in a green area, or call my mum as she was a mental health professional and deals with anxiety herself.
‘I’m very lucky I have a strong support network that I can turn to.’
A new string to her bow is drinking a CBD infused drink after an episode, which she finds helps her sleep better.
She adds: The thing I often say is “I feel so stupid feeling this way”, but I remind myself that I would never feel that way about someone who tells me they’re dealing with anxiety.
‘I tell myself to treat myself if I were my best friend.’
‘The biggest lesson I have learned is to be open with people’
Seren Thomas, 27, from Birmingham, works in design, and has struggled with anxiety since 2021.
‘It started while I was working at an estate agent, in what I can only describe as an incredibly toxic environment,’ she says.
‘I have only ever had one full-blown panic attack, which lasted about half an hour. I felt like I just simply wouldn’t get through it, like I would never stop crying or breathing sharply.
‘I sat on the floor of the bathroom and just rocked and cried.
‘Once I came through the other side, I found that I started having many more anxious episodes, including retching and throwing up every single morning before work, alongside social anxiety and professional anxiety.’
Seren’s next steps involved speaking to her mum and eventually leaving that job – she hasn’t yet been able to return to the town in which it was based.
Now, the main tool that Seren uses during and after feeling anxious, is talking her loved ones.
‘I talk to my mum or my boyfriend or a close friend, because I find that it helps me to understand why I’m feeling this way,’ she says.
‘My next favourite thing to do is put my phone down, have a bath with candles, breathe slowly and deeply, and then pamper myself afterwards – face mask, hair mask, the works. I find this is the perfect immediate remedy for me.’
Seren says she particularly used to struggle if she’d decided not to go to a social event with friends due to anxiety.
‘I used to find it really hard, but now, I suppose I think to myself that if this friend doesn’t understand, then maybe they aren’t a great person to have around?
‘I’ve also found as I’ve got more confident having these conversations, I have also got better at telling myself to go to events, even when I’m not too keen – I can always leave if I hate it, but more often than not, I end up having a great time.’
What can you do immediately after a panic attack?
Dr Tara shares her advice:
- Firstly, remember that the feeling will pass and that the symptoms are not harmful for you. Try saying out aloud: ‘it’s ok, you’ve had a panic attack, this will pass.’
- Be kind to yourself – don’t feel you have to rush back in to doing a task you were previously doing or have planned.
- Many people feel tired after a panic attack so looking after yourself and not pushing yourself too much is important.
- Speak to someone trusted if you are able.
- Try not to avoid trigger situations for your anxiety or panic. This only services to exacerbate the anxiety cycle.
- Doing some grounding exercises can help you focus on the here and now and can reduce overwhelming feelings. A simple strategy is to sit on a chair and gently push your feet into the floor. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of three and breathe slowly out again through your mouth to the count of four. Try and focus on one or two things that you can see, hear or feel.
*Name has been changed.
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