What are panic attacks?

Definition of a panic attack: 'A sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.'

Panic attacks are part of the flight or fight system as I mentioned in a previous post titled 'What is Anxiety?' Panic attacks arise due to the rush of adrenaline that you get due to the fight or flight. We have this system due to our time as cavemen. When we were going to be attacked by a bear for example, we would have the choice to fight or run and this is what the adrenaline is for. It gives us an extra push to perform the action. However, for many anxiety sufferers this fight or flight system arises even when there is no danger at all. For example, you could be in a crowded place, or about to take part in a big event. This poses no threat, yet your body sends a rush of adrenaline. Many people may now be asking, 'well, what's the problem with that?' Often panic attack sufferers will end up not being able to breathe, feeling sick, light headed, crying, and eventually really tired due to the exhaustion. For many panic attack sufferers, their senses highten and for others they become quite confused. As with anxiety in general, each symptom depends on the person. Panic attacks drain all of your energy. As mentioned above sufferers can feel quite ill. This sickness feeling comes from the digestive system slowing down due to the adrenaline. 

Panic attacks can last for a few minutes to many hours. They can also be on and off. 

Panic attacks tend to prevent some people from doing what they love as they are afraid that they will experience a panic attack whilst out and about. This again is very disabling for a person. The reason why people think this way is because the flight and fight system often repeats itself. For example, if you had a panic attack in a Mall, the next time you visit, it is highly likely that you will experience another one, even though there was no danger present at either time. 

If you need any more information on panic attacks, don't be afraid to contact me.

As always, thanks for reading.

My Anxiety story

I have always been a shy person throughout the whole of my life. I've hated joining clubs and standing on stage. My teachers tried their best in trying to improve my confidence, but it has been little to no help. Somehow, I think I've been born shy. But, I also believe my mental health issues began to shows signs from the age of 8 years old having to make sure certain things were done before I went to bed and before I got to school. 

Because I've been a shy person throughout my life, it was hard to notice a change in myself with regards to anxiety. However, my anxiety story began at the beginning of my exams in 2012, which would have been around March. I first noticed that something was odd when I began to feel really ill every day. At first I assumed it was a virus, but soon it wouldn't go away and I constantly felt I needed to leave the classroom whilst in school. It was horrible with constant sickness, stomach aches and lack of sleep. I assumed it was exam stress, but little did I know it would continue. 

I managed to go through all of my exams and my sickness began to wear off by the time the summer holidays came around. It was the best summer I have ever had. I went to the Olympics and spent long summer days with my friends. However, I still had worries in the back of my mind. One of the main worries from the Summer was sickness. In any big event or enclosed space, such as a hall or stadium I felt I needed to get out and felt really ill. I began to take paracetamol on a regular basis to try and stop the sickness, even though it had no effect - It was like a safety blanket as I begun to develop this fear of being ill in front of people.

I believe my first panic attack was on results day. I was so nervous, I couldn't breathe and was crying. I just assumed that this was nerves that got out of control. But, my panic attacks continued and I remember having several over the last few months of the year when catching public transport, going to school, driving lessons, applying for jobs, school trips and so on.

I joined the sixth form in September of 2012, and on the first day I felt really, really ill. I thought I was going to be sick everywhere. I was exhausted. But yet again I presumed it was just nerves from starting a new year. It continued quite severely for a week or so, until it began to pass off. 

Due to my increasing anxiety, I begun to see a hypnotherapist in the last few months of 2012 and into 2013, who helped me greatly. Slowly, but surely my panic attacks decreased.

I was really enjoying sixth form, until I got to January. In January I had a breakdown. I got into school one day and completely panicked. I explained to my friend that I had to go and I couldn't stay. From that day in January I couldn't leave the house. I couldn't go to school, so I had to have work sent home. I couldn't answer the phone to my teachers either. I had to cancel my driving lessons and any meetings with friends. It was hell on earth. Everything that I loved was being taken away. 

At that time, people thought I was really ill. I had been to the doctors a few times complaining of great stomach pain and generally feeling horrible. I had my bloods done and it turned out that there wasn't anything wrong with me; it was just in my head. In a weird way I was hoping for something to be wrong with me just so my problems could be solved. 

As time moved on, I slowly managed to leave my house. I remember the first time I walked to the shop at the end of the road and remembering what an amazing feeling it was. It was only a quick trip, but I left my house and paid for something. As time continued, I managed to catch public transport, including going on the train to London with my Dad. I had to find some strength to fight the feeling that something terrible was going to happen to me. School was still a great problem. I went very little, and everyday was a physical and mental pain. My mum would take me to the school gate and I would have panic attacks every day and be crying with sadness and exhaustion. Sometimes I could go to school, but other times I would just sit outside the gate. It would be true to say that most of my A-Levels studies were spent outside of school rather than inside. Nevertheless, hard work and self teaching allowed me to get to university, although it was all a guessing game at the time as to whether I would even make it. 

It got to around March and I began to go back to driving lessons. However, school was a great problem. I struggled to step inside the building without feeling really ill and exhausted. Many people hate school and find it boring, but if I could've just gone to school with ease it would've been the best thing. Each day was different. Some days I did conquer my fears, other days I couldn't

Unfortunately, In June 2013 I had a severe panic attack, one of the worst I've known and it was only a few months ago that I began to take driving lessons once more (July 2015)

Around the end of 2013 I began to have counselling and CBT on the NHS, which helped me immensely. I believe I had to be transferred to three different counselors and took some tests to find out that my most severe anxiety is health, followed by social anxiety and panic attacks. As some of you may have read, I left therapy in May 2014, which is an amazing feeling.

However, in February 2014 when my anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts were at their worst, I began to take a medication called Citalopram thanks to my Mum and I now never look back. It is the best thing that has happened in regards to this condition.

Since that time I have now had two part time jobs, graduated from university with first class honours and am on my way to fulfilling my dream career. I am still on medication and continuing to battle my anxiety. Panic attacks are few and far between and I'm currently seeing a counsellor, which does help. I still experience bouts of depression and anxiety, but I'd go as far to say that I am almost recovered. Looking back now, I was once in hell - a place where I had no capabilities to enjoy any aspect of my life, and now I have moved out and am living independently - a day I never thought I would ever see. 

It's really hard to write about this to the wide world, but I'm doing it with the understanding that it will help others. I hope this brief overview of my anxiety story so far, has helped you to come to terms with your own. 

What is Anxiety?

Definition of Anxiety - 'A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.'

You will have heard many of your friends and family talk about being nervous or anxious before a big event, such as an exam, driving test or first date. It is completely normal for a human to experience periods of anxiety before such events. Sometime during the event and by the time the event is over, the anxiety will have disappeared. However, there are some people who tend to be in an almost permanent state of anxiety. These are the people like you and I who suffer with anxiety as a condition. The anxiety may be triggered by specific places or events such as school, going to a shop and meeting friends.

Anxiety can come in different severities, from mild to severe. People who suffer with mild anxiety, can still get on with their lives and tend to only experience anxiety before big events. But as we move down the scale, the worse the anxiety gets until we reach severe anxiety. Severe anxiety can result in not being able to leave the house, not being able to go on public transport and not even having the ability to talk to someone on the phone. It stops practically everything you want to do. I have experienced this severity of anxiety.

There are many different symptoms which come with anxiety, these can include: loss of appetite, dizziness, sickness, tender stomach and lack of sleep. No person is the same. Not every symptom will be present in each person and its severity will differ from person to person. An additional symptom can be depression, which is caused by the anxiety. This can also go from mild to severe. 

Anxiety is based upon what is known as the 'fight or flight' system. This fight or flight system comes from when we were cavemen  This system will tell us whether to run, or fight the situation. The person will tend to have a lot of adrenaline in order to take on the situation. The difference with an anxiety sufferer is that this adrenaline tends to be present in almost every situation, even if the situation presents no threat.

It is also important for an anxiety sufferer to get lots of sleep. I understand that it's very hard to sleep when you are suffering with the condition, but whilst you are sleeping you undergo REM (rapid eye movement) This is essential in order to relieve your anxiety, as the body is getting rid of all of the stress from the day. 

Some sufferers will have this condition for many years, others for a few weeks or months. Recovery has no time limit. Personally, I believe that I am at a good stage in my recovery. It has taken me over a year to get where I am today. I hope that this post has improved your understanding of anxiety. If there is anything else I can help with or you need me to explain further, let me know. I'm here to help!

Revision Tips

Since I've been preparing for my exams, I've put together some top revision tips:

1. Vocabulary - the best way to learn vocabulary for me is through seeing something repeatedly. So, put the words or definitions where you are going to see them a lot. I.e. the bathroom, bedroom and so on. You'll be learning vocabulary in no time and without even trying. On the other hand, learning vocabulary can be effective if you learn so many words each day. For example, I try to learn 10 German words a day.

2. Mind maps - mind maps are my saviours. I created a mind map for each topic and used information from class notes and books. I condensed the information down and used a range colours and shapes. It's proven that your brain remembers information if it's connected with a shape. 

3. Classical music - I'm not a fan of classical music, however there have been studies to suggest that it improves your brain power! I've found that it keeps me concentrated as it's a stimulant. Before, I used to get distracted singing along to lyrics.

4. Make sure you have a plan - it's really important to have a plan of when, where and how much revision you are going to do. It's suggested to do an hour per subject per day. This plan will keep you on track.

5. Learn to have a break - if my anxiety has taught me anything, it's to have a break. Forever, my teachers had been worried that I would 'burn out.' Taking a day off now and then is fine, even if it's a couple of days. It's needed to refresh your brain. When it comes to revising, I tend to revise in a half hour to hourly block, then take ten or so minutes off before the next subject.

6. Past papers are the secret - you have revised everything, but you have never seen a past paper? Past papers are good for your timing, knowing what has come up in the past and practice for what the examiners are looking for.

7. When should I revise? - you need to revise when you are the most efficient. For me that's early in the morning or at night. There is a quiz that can be taken to see when you revise best. On the other hand, if you revise before you go to bed, your brain will be absorbing the information whilst you sleep.

8. No pain no gain - you have to set rewards. Revision can be a drag, so every time you finish a module, give yourself a reward. This can be a piece of chocolate, listening to your favorite song and so on. Your brain will soon get used to revision. The brain wants to do things that are rewarding. 

9. The future - I know that when you're four months before the exam, you don't see the point in revising. Imagine the day you open those results and get those A's and B's because of the hard work; it will keep you motivated.

10. Time - it's important to start revising early. It's best to have time to keep repeating and learning. Many teachers argue that this is the most important thing. It's suggested to do an hour per subject per night from the beginning of the course. In this time you can be creating mind maps and so on, therefore when it comes to revision, you're ready.

11. Examiner reports - these are amazing. The examiners are basically telling you what to do and what not to do in the exam.

Remember that hard work will pay off, but also remember that exams aren't everything. It's really hard for me to realise that. I want to get really good exam results to prove that this condition hasn't defeated me. As one of my teachers said before an exam once 'You could be dying right now, it's only an exam.' 

Just try your best. I wish you good luck!