Helping myself and others with anxiety


Samantha Zic

I remember my first-time face to face with anxiety like it was yesterday. I was in the car with my father and brother on my way to get dinner for the night.

As I stared out the car window I asked myself “What does it feel like to die?” Bear in mind I was not suicidal at the time nor have I ever been in my life, but I have always been curious about what happens during and after death.

While I was pondering over this question, a sudden wave of panic rushed over me, trapping the air inside my lungs. Clueless about what to do in this situation, I immediately yelled that I was dying to my father whilst taking in the last few moments of my life.

As soon he heard my cry for help, he quickly drove me to the nearest hospital. We were in the parking lot when he asked me if I still wanted to go inside the hospital.

 I was feeling calmer than before so I decided not to go in and just go straight to dinner. Ever since that first incident, I’ve had many more panic attacks.

Some would only last a few minutes while others lasted up to half an hour and one episode required a police officer to come over and calm me down. My doctor diagnosed me with a generalized anxiety disorder, meaning that I excessively worry over lots of different things.

He found my case particularly strange because my anxiety triggers were abnormal. Whenever I watched a movie and it reached its climax, I would start to panic because the intensity was so high that I “physically” felt it.

 In an open area such as a field or empty floor, I could not breathe because the open space made me feel insecure. My triggers didn’t seem to have a common source and weren’t caused by stress from school or home, so my doctor saw no reason for me to be panicking at all.

 All I could tell him was that I couldn’t help it, and it was just who I am. Lucky for me though, I later found a therapist who empathized with me and shared some great grounding techniques that I still use to this day.

One technique that has helped me a lot is naming five things I see, four things I hear, three things I feel, two things I smell, and one thing I taste in my current surroundings. The purpose of this exercise is to redirect my focus away from whatever is causing me to panic so my body and mind can calm down.

This technique may help people who do experience anxiety or panic attack disorders.

If you are someone who doesn’t experience anxiety or panic attacks but knows someone who does, here is some advice on how you can help them during a panic attack. First, don’t ask them if they are okay.

My family does this all the time wherever I’m having a panic attack, and it only makes me panic more because I become desperate to try and mask my fear in order to avoid upsetting them. Instead, you should engage in conversation with them.

Try getting them to talk about something that isn’t related to how they’re feeling, or if they don’t feel like talking, just start blabbing on about random things from the top of your head. One time when my younger brother realized that I was having a panic attack, he started telling me random facts he learned from his books and it helped distract me.

Next, you should make them feel comfortable. Now I’m not asking you to swaddle them in a blanket and give them hot cocoa because chances are you won’t have any of that on you (but if you do go right ahead).

My mother offers me water and a place to sit whenever she notices I’m not feeling okay. These acts are simple, but they really do make a difference in my situation by letting me know how much my mother cares about me. Lastly, and most importantly, be patient with them.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told “You’re being silly” or “It’s all in your head,“ but what I can tell you is that they have done nothing but make me feel guilty later for having a panic attack in the first place.

Saying things like “I love you” and “You’re gonna make it through this” instead will make you appear as someone they can depend on for support and guidance.

Every day is a battle for me. Some days I feel strong enough to fight while others I just break down and cry, but no matter what I still get through the day all the same.