It’s perfectly natural to feel panicked in certain situations. Sometimes life can be a bit panicky. When you’re late to an appointment and there’s a red light; when you can’t remember where you put your mum’s favourite necklace; when you are watching literally any episode of Pretty Little Liars.

But a panic attack is something else, something next-level – a very real, physical reaction to what’s going on in your mind. Put simply, panic attacks are when that feeling of ‘Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,’ spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.

What do panic attacks look like?

During a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breathe or you are going to be sick. Some people describe feeling like they’re having a heart attack, or the frantic need to escape whatever place or situation you’re in.

Physically, you might feel like your heart is beating weirdly or really fast. You may also feel hot and sweaty, or shaky and weak in your legs. Some people experience blurry vision, or a sensation that their surroundings feel strange and distant.

Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is how quickly they come on and how intense the symptoms can feel. However, it’s important to remember that panic attacks can’t cause any physical harm. We’ll say it again: they can’t cause you any physical harm. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Panic attacks are when that feeling of “Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,” spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.
  • Symptoms include: feeling sick or short of breath, feeling like you're having a heart attack, feeling hot and sweaty, shaky or weak in your legs, blurry vision, feeling the need to escape, or the sensation that your surroundings feel strange.
  • Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. The symptoms can feel intensely real and scary, although they can’t actually cause any physical harm.
  • Breathing exercises, listening to music, exercising or keeping a diary can all help, and so can talking to your doctor.

What causes panic attacks?

The exact cause isn’t understood. Sigh.

For some people, there are places or situations that can trigger a panic attack, whereas other people will experience them at random. They go hand-in-hand with anxiety, although not everyone who has a panic attack has anxiety disorder, and vice versa. But whatever the cause, they’re common. About one in 10 people experience panic attacks, and they effect twice as many women as men (cool thnx, patriarchy). 

Are they treatable?

Yes. The worst thing about panic attacks is that you can talk and think yourself into them – but that’s also kind of the best thing, because it means you can talk and think yourself out them too.

Obviously, this sort of mental gymnastics can be incredibly difficult, but it’s definitely possible. There are a lots small things you can do that can make a huge difference; talk to someone you trust, try some breathing exercises, listen to music, exercising or even keeping a diary. And beyond that, talking therapies with a mental health professional can give you coping strategies to keep panic at bay. 

When should I go to the doctor?

If your panic attacks are frequent, linked to general feelings of anxiety, or just making life difficult, it’s always a good idea to have a chat to your GP about what they recommend.

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Anxiety. We’ve all had it at some point. It could be pre-exam nerves, those jitters you get when your phone lights up with a text from your crush, or building the nerve to ask your parents if you can go to a party at that girl’s house you know they don’t approve of. It’s totally normal, and often harmless—even helpful, when it comes to pushing you to do that exam prep. But for some of us, those bouts of worry aren’t so occasional.

It’s a strange beast. It can creep up on you without you even realising it, or when you least expect it. And all personality types can experience it. As someone who’s spent half their life simultaneously being a self-confessed party girl, and occasionally feeling like I want to hide in my room for the rest of time, I am a living example of how you can be the most extrovert person in the world, and still suffer from social anxiety and poor mental health. And I’m not the only one.

The more I’ve opened up and talked about it, the more I hear a similar story. That seriously funny girl in my class? Yep, she cried the whole way in because she feels like she can’t cope with school at the moment. The girl that seems so cool and confident, who’s everybody’s friend? She has depression, and sometimes spends the whole weekend in her room because she can’t face the crowds. It made me realise: I’m not alone. And while I’d never wish it on anybody, when you’re going through a hard time, having someone you can relate to can be a huge comfort. Which is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to people when you’re struggling and be open about what you’re feeling. With that in mind, here are five things I want to share about being an extrovert living with anxiety.

It’s totally possible to really want to do something, but feel sick with anxiety when it comes to actually doing it

Yep, this one’s a real bastard. You booked the tickets because you want to go. All your friends are going and you know it’s going to be so much fun. So why are you struggling to eat your dinner, because your stomach’s full of butterflies? Anxiety, my friend. Take some deep breaths, call your mate and tell them how you’re feeling—or better, plan to get ready together next time. You’ll be calm and collected again in no time.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something, or how ordinary it is, you still get worried about doing it every. single. time

It could be doing the high jump at school (wtf is a fisby flop, anyway, and why do I need to know how to do it?! I can launch myself onto the sofa just fine, thank you very much), calling the dentist to make an appointment, or just knocking on your neighbour’s door because you forgot your key. It’ll be fine, you’re sure—besides if it’s not, what’s the worst that could happen? But sometimes it doesn’t matter what your brain says, your emotions don’t seem to get the message.

That feeling of wanting to do absolutely nothing and hide from the world, but actually feeling far worse when you do

I am SO BAD FOR THIS. When you get that ‘I-can’t-face-the-world-today’ feeling, while it can seem like locking yourself in your room and re-watching Gossip Girl for the 76th time is the balm to heal all wounds, if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel 10 times worse for it. Use that iron willpower and get yourself up and out the house, or even just have a cup of tea and chat with your mum in the garden to put things in perspective.

Getting overly upset when you’ve planned to do something and it goes ‘wrong’, even if you’re enjoying yourself

For my 18th birthday, I planned a huge night out. After all—it is THE biggest birthday ever. All my friends came—I was over the moon. My then boyfriend spent the night rounding everyone up and making sure we all stayed together, so that I was sure to have fun with all my mates. Naturally, I bawled my eyes out. Why? Because it’s not how the night was supposed to go! They should just know where we’re going. It should all just naturally run smoothly. The irony being, it was actually a good night till then. Learning to let go of expectations and go with the flow is easier said than done, when your mind’s constantly working over time.

Being really loud and dominating a conversation on a night out, then getting embarrassed about it the next day

I’ll be honest, sometimes this is legit—well, if I don’t laugh at me who will?! But in all seriousness, there are times where I feel like I’m having the best time, everyone’s laughing with me, joining in. But then when I get home, I start to think: were they laughing with me, or at me? I need to wind my neck in, I talk about myself far too much! Well, keeping your ego in check is one thing, but it’s important to remember, no one’s judging you. And if they are, well then you really shouldn’t be mates with them, anyway.

@EllieCostigan

It’s time you started celebrating your period, guys. Sign up to bettybox RN and get all your tampons and pads, beauty products, sweet treats and loads more cool stuff delivered to your door, every single month. We know. It’s totally awesome. 

Image: Amber Griffin