Have you ever seen a friend have an anxiety attack? How did you react? Have you ever had an anxiety attack in front of your friends? If so, how did your friends react? Did they help you?
Today I want to talk about an anxiety attack I had, and how a caring friend rescued me before it got out of hand. I also want to shed light on several very important topics; the unpredictability and randomness of an anxiety attack, how you can help a friend that is having an anxiety attack, and what an anxiety attack feels like.
On The Day of the Anxiety Attack:
This particular anxiety attack happened last October, while I was waiting in line at a Halloween attraction with friends. It had been a really fun day; we went out to eat, had a discussion about horror films, carpooled to the Halloween attraction, and got VIP tickets. Literally, a flawless day thus far. Additionally, it was the perfect night for a haunted house; the night was clear, there was no chance of rain, everyone was laughing and having a really great time, including me. It was the perfect October night… Until the anxiety attack came…
You may be wondering; “why would someone with severe anxiety willingly go to a haunted house?” Well, let me explain some things, then I’ll come back to this particular anxiety attack…
Not Caused by Halloween:
Halloween attractions are manufactured with the purpose of inducing anxiety. Patrons attend these attractions because they want to be scared, feel adrenaline, and have an anxiety-inducing-experience. Right? So, you may be wondering; “why would someone with severe anxiety willingly go to a haunted house?” Halloween attractions have never given me anxiety. I love horror films and I love Halloween-themed-attractions. Actually, my husband and I have flown across the country to attend Halloween attractions, so there is absolutely no correlation between Halloween attractions and my anxiety… This anxiety attack was absolutely random.
Unpredictable Random Anxiety, Not Stress:
To understand the randomness of my anxiety attack, you need to understand that stress and anxiety are different. Stress originates from the pressure a person feels in their everyday life, simply put; stress has a cause, and once the cause is addressed, the stress typically goes away. Anxiety, however, operates differently; anxiety doesn’t necessarily need a cause, and it isn’t logical. Anxiety appears, consumes everything logical, and induces a crippling vertigo spiral…
Crippling Vertigo Spiral:
When I have an anxiety attack I experience a debilitating state of emotions. I normally call these emotions “crippling vertigo spirals”; I get faint, dizzy, and nauseous, I feel an intense amount of terror, followed quickly by chest pains, and cold sweats, my mind begins racing wildly, and I can’t calm down. Normally, there is no logical or identifiable cause for my anxiety, so running intervention on an anxiety attack isn’t easy. So…
Back to The Attack – It Progresses:
I’m standing there, in line with my friends… and I feel the anxiety attack coming on. I know that I’m powerless to stop it. Imagine being tied to a train track, and seeing a train speeding toward you. You are aware of what’s happening, but you’re a tiny human, and you’re powerless to stop the express-locomotive that is raging toward you.
I get faint and dizzy. I squat down, and place my hand on the cold damp grass. I try to make myself invisible. I get nauseous. Terror begins creeping in. Illogical thoughts start racing through my mind; I’m going to ruin this for everyone. We rode here together. Everyone is going to get mad. They are gonna have to leave because of me. Why is this happening now? I can’t breathe. Remember to breathe. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Why is this happening? Remember to breathe. Don’t breathe that much. You are gonna hyperventilate. They are gonna get so mad. Stand back up. Calm down before you vomit. I need the keys. I need to go to the car. Breathe. They are gonna be mad.
I stand up. I felt like I’d been squatting for hours. Realistically, it was more like 20 seconds. I was ready to make a break for the parking lot. I would wait in the car until everyone was done. My mind was like a high-wired-trapeze-artist, but everything around me was calm, like it was moving in slow-motion… completely unaware of my situation.
Then, I heard one of my friends speak; “is there anything I can do for you?”
My thoughts continued racing; Oh God, they noticed. I’m a freak. They are gonna make fun of me. I need to leave now. Before I make this worse for everyone. No one wants to babysit me. Wait… What did they say? They want to help me? What would help me?
I looked at them, I speak, asking; “Can I listen to music?”, my friend kindly giggled and replied, “well, of course”.
My friend helped me put my ear buds in, then turned, and went back to their business with the rest of the group. I started listening to music, and my anxiety attack was 100% over before the first song ended.
Processing the Words:
Hearing “is there anything I can do for you?” was a blessing. First off, it was amazing to see that someone cared, it made me feel validated, like I wasn’t alone. Second, it forced me to slow down and consider what would help end my anxiety attack. Third, I was able to pinpoint what would help me, and say it out loud.
I’m not sure what ended my anxiety attack; the words, the music, or a combination of the two. But the music was only possible because of the words.
The Rest of the Night:
Normally, my day is over after an anxiety attack. But not on this night. This night picked back up, and continued, as planned. Like the anxiety attack never happened. But, it could have been so bad…
The Bad That Could Have Been:
So, what could have been if my friend didn’t help me. Truly, it would have gotten bad. Here’s my predicted layout of what could have been… My slight anxiety attack would morph into a full-on-anxiety-attack, and since I was in public, it would probably result in a manic episode. The night, for me especially, would be ruined. Either; (1) I would spend the night alone in the car, shaking and crying, while everyone else went to the Halloween attraction, or (2) Everyone would leave early because they were worried about me, thus ending the fun for everyone. However, the days following would be worse than the night itself. I would feel a debilitating amount of guilt for ruining the night, and my fear of social situations would grow. As a result, it would be over a month before I would leave the house again. So, it could have gotten bad…
It is an oddity that my anxiety attack was disbanded so quickly. I’m not saying all anxiety attacks can be cured by one properly placed statement or song… What I’m saying is this: kindness and validation are blessings, and everyone deserves reassuring words.
A few kind and reassuring words from a friend meant the world to me on that night, and I’m still grateful for them today. If you want to read more on this particular topic, visit my post; “10 Reassuring Things I Want to Hear You Say: Mental Health Awareness”. In this post I share 10 reassuring things (plus some bonus material) that I need to hear from my friends and loved ones.
Sincerely, Uncustomary Housewife
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Thank you. I shared this on my Facebook timeline. I needed to read it and hope my friends read it too.
Thank you for reading and sharing. I appreciate it.
Thank you for this. It helps so much to have examples of what works/helps in these situations.
I’m still learning what to be aware of, symptom-wise, when a friend or co-worker has an anxiety attack. (Mostly I just try to pay attention to subtle changes, and stay aware.) Knowing how to phrase things helps, too, since sometimes the wrong phrasing can make things worse instead of better.
I hope you know that your bravery in talking about these topics is helping others. Not only those with similar challenges, but those of us who are attempting to support them!
You are very welcome, and thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad to hear that you are learning how to support others. That is so extremely important. I wrote another blog post that might help you, “10 Reassuring Things I Want to Hear You Say”; https://uncustomaryhousewife.com/2018/04/20/10-reassuring-things-i-want-to-hear-you-say-mental-health-awareness/
Yes, I’ve read that one. Very helpful. In fact, it was that post that made me decide to follow your blog!
I’m so glad! Thank you.
A simple offer of help can go such a long way in helping me feel grounded during an anxiety attack. I’m so glad your friend was able to recognize you weren’t well and offer to help you. It’s amazing when anxiety attacks happen but don’t ruin the rest of your day. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading, and for commenting. I sincerely appreciate it. You are absolutely correct: it was nice to move on from an anxiety attack, and still have a normal night.
The anxiety attacks I have can happen randomly, but there are places and situations in which I know it’s possible to have one. Usually the generalized anxiety attacks begin with a rocking motion. But just because the attacks I have look different than yours it doesn’t mean they aren’t valid. One day, when I had to leave church because anxiety descended on me, a good friend saw me in the parking lot, asked if I was okay (I murmured “no.” He put an arm on my shoulder, guided me to my van and then stood there and prayed for me. It didn’t stop the attack, but knowing someone cared enough to even ask about my welfare meant so much to me. Thanks for posting educational stories which bravely include your own experience.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are very correct, knowing that someone cares can really mean a lot. It absolutely does to me. I’m glad that you had someone on that day. Thank you for reading and commenting on my post, I sincerely appreciate it.
Good for you for asking for what you needed! It can be so hard to do that when you are in the middle of an attack.
Excellent post! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you, very much. I appreciate it.
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This is such a wonderful example of how simple gestures can be grounding and really effectively change the route of anxiety. Thank you for sharing! I’m so glad you have a friend who was able to do this for you.☺️
Simple gestures do mean a lot. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words, I sincerely appreciate you.
Thanks for sharing your story. Glad you had a good friend in that time of need! Such a simple thing, right? A few kind words, no judgement. I imagine those external words may have helped a bit just by hearing a positive voice outside your own head instead of only the negative voice inside your brain. For me, I try to hide my anxiety episodes, but sometimes they’re bad enough that I can’t. So I reach out to someone I trust. Their words/speaking might be fine. But it’s their listening ears I think that helps most. Just knowing they’re there for support and care without judgement. I hope we can all be like that. Take care!
Thank you for reading my story and commenting, I appreciate it. Also, I’m sorry that you’ve had to experience this, and I’m sorry that you’ve felt the need to hide your anxiety episodes; I know, from personal experience, how difficult that can be. Remember, you are not alone.
I wonder if you can relate to this particular. With my anxiety, I usually just don’t mention it. Sometimes I hide it. Like, if I talk about my anxiety and begin to address the triggers, then it’s like letting the cat outta the bag. I must tread carefully on the subject lest the anxiety breaks out, which by the way happened this weekend. I’ve got a new appointment with my therapist next week as one result. Thanks for your feedback. Take care.
When I think about my anxiety, I sometimes accidentally make it worse. Sometimes I accidentally will my anxiety into worsening… I worry about my anxiety, and that gives me anxiety, and my anxiety gets worse. Also, when I talk openly about anxiety (like right now) I feel like people, in public, oftentimes look for me to be anxious… If I behave “normally” people seem disappointed… I’ve even had people say to me “I read your blog, but you don’t seem like you have anxiety”… and then that gives me anxiety, because it makes me feel like a fraud.
I’m really glad to hear that you have an appointment with a therapist. Therapy is awesome!
I totally get that b/c I do the same sometimes, worry about the worry. It compounds itself if you let it. The downward spiral in a way. And yes, I get the rest too. It’s hard to say you struggle with anxiety when it’s not severe or debilitating 24/7. It fluctuates. Then you think, maybe my anxiety is gone and I’m ok now. But then it comes right back as if to remind you it still has you. And you know something isn’t right. Yes, I’m looking forward to my appt, though I feel sometimes akward. Thanks for sharing again. Take care.