That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the last few days.
‘Anxiety is no reason to be anti social’
‘Anxiety is no reason to want to go home’
‘Anxiety is no reason to be sad’
‘Anxiety is no reason to ruin everyone’s night’
But actually, it is. Experiencing anxiety is a legitimate reason for having emotions and wanting what’s best for yourself.
This weekend, Tony and I took a trip to Norwich and from the moment I got in the car I felt as if I was drowning. My breathing became shallow, I could feel my heart racing and there was a lump sitting in my throat. I didn’t mention these feelings to anyone, in fact I pretended they weren’t happening, I swiftly pushed them aside, occupying myself with food and aimless scrolling through Instagram for three hours. But under the surface, I was a wreck.
Now there is no point in me giving you a play by play account of all the anxiety I was faced with, so I’ll shorten it down and get to the point.
I was in an unfamiliar city, unable to quietly escape and meeting unfamiliar people who were all very lovely and did nothing to make me feel uncomfortable, but anxiety was still with me, in full force. Our day continued into night and I found myself becoming increasingly panicked, my thoughts were hurtling by at 100 miles an hour and I began to experience a huge sensory overload. Becoming more and more withdrawn from the group I began to feel trapped. Still unable to convey my emotions to anyone I just sat with them, letting them stew and develop.
It was at this point that Tony noticed I needed ‘rescuing.’ I choose this term, not because I think that people with mental health illnesses need rescuing, but because I’m the type of person, who if presented with a choice, will always pick the option that keeps everyone else happy rather than focusing on what I need. So in knowing this he took control and took me outside, away from the crowds, away from the sheer noise so he then had a chance to find out what was going on for me and how he could help.
So this lead me on to thinking; what can our loved ones do when we’re having an anxiety attack? When we’re not being open, or when we don’t actually know what’s going on. What can they do to support us and ensure we’re going to feel safe and unjudged?
So this next part is for them, a little bit of advice if you’re confused or worried when supporting someone with anxiety.
- It’s not your fault that you don’t understand. If you’ve never lived with anxiety then you will have no idea what’s happening for them and that’s okay. We don’t need you to understand all the ins and outs, we just need your support. If you’re unsure on how to go about supporting your loved one when anxiety is in full force, talk to them when they’re in a great mood! Ask what you can do to help when they’re in the middle on an attack so you are then fully prepared for the next time.
- Be patient. Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Like I said, we know you may not fully understand. So when the anxiety comes from a place that you may think is an over reaction or not logical, don’t make it known. That person is relying on you to help, not to belittle the situation. If they’re anxious about a long car ride or being in crowds or their health then that’s what it is. Don’t make them feel worse by insinuating they’re stupid or it’s not a good enough reason. Because it’s always a good enough reason if it’s causing that much turmoil.
- Know when to give space. If they are the type of person who needs you close by, then great! Don’t stop doing that. But if they already have their coping strategies in place and they feel safe then you need to respect that. Sometimes it’s good to just remind them that you’re there if they need you, once you’ve done that, try and keep the environment they’re in calm. Whether that’s keeping the dogs busy, looking after the children or just doing the leftover chores. When I have an attack at home Tony keeps our dog occupied and busies himself doing the washing up or tidying, he’ll check in on me every now and again to see if I need anything or if I want to get some fresh air, which really helps.
- Stop with the cliches. We know they come from the most sincere place, but hearing things like ‘stay positive!’ or ‘everything will be okay!’ Will probably not solve the situation or make us feel better, remember, what seems easy for you is probably a really big challenge for someone suffering with anxiety. We know things will be okay in the grand scheme of things, but at that moment, when we’re panicking, all normality disappears and we need something a little bit sturdier. So here are some other things you can try saying;
- ‘Do you want to go somewhere quieter’ (if you’re somewhere busy and you notice they’re becoming withdrawn)
- ‘Take a breath, slow down your thoughts, I am here, you are safe’
- ‘We have time, there’s no need to rush’
- ‘If you can, talk to me about what’s going on for you right now’
- ‘How can I help?’ Now this last one may depend on how far into an attack they are, or if they’re like me, might not help too much because I need someone to tell me what to do rather than asking.
So just to put a nice neat bow on all of this. Anxiety is always reason enough, if something is making you feel anxious you are allowed to talk to someone close to you, you’re allowed to remove yourself from the situation and you’re allowed to be selfish. You should never feel alone.