Taming the anxiety beast

Sunday , July 30, 2017 - 12:00 AM

TX. Correspondent

Anxiety has ruled my life since fourth grade.

I can pinpoint the moment of my first anxiety attack and the same for my first panic attack. I was the new kid, walking into a classroom of new kids I thought would judge me. 

It also had to do with the change in school settings. I had a uniform now, a new haircut and no friends.

I remember walking into the class and seeing almost every eye turn toward me. I stopped in the doorway, frozen in my first panic attack, my vision turning into a kaleidoscope of colors as it seemed to focus on an area on a desk as it slowly turned black.

I don't remember anything after that. And thankfully I didn't experience it very much. The feeling would only happen to me when I'd have to perform little plays that the classes would put on. I chalked it up to me just having some stage fright, however, I'd soon learn it really wasn't stage fright.

In the years since then, I’ve learned a lot about coping with anxiety and panic attacks — maybe even some things that can help others. One thing I’ve learned is that everyone experiences these attacks differently, so what happened to me may not be the same as what happens to you.

Over the edge

I made it through elementary school and moved on to junior high, where I did all sorts of art classes including theater. I loved being able to act as someone else and mess around with my friends. Despite it being a theater class, we really didn't have to perform in front of the class as much as you'd think. I did fine, though, and still thought that in my head that I was just experiencing stage fright and would eventually get over it.

In eighth grade, we were assigned a monologue that we had to perform in front of the class and I was very worried, as to be expected. I ended up going with a monologue about a fast food worker telling off an angry customer that was supposed to be a crazy and exaggerated scene. Piece of cake, right?

That’s what I thought when I picked it, however it didn't play out that way. After spending hours practicing the monologue, I thought I had it nailed down. I felt confident enough in my abilities and felt fine that whole day.

However, as I walked into class, it really hit me that I was going to be performing solo in front of my peers. I started to feel shaky and my breathing became a little quicker. I was one of the middle kids to perform so I sat watching others but I didn't remember anything. Time seemed to pass by either too fast or too slow. I was so focused on whether I might mess up or forget my lines that I seemed to almost space out of reality.

I was snapped out of this when my teacher called my name. I remember standing up and shaking badly as I made my way to the stage. All I remember is staring intently at the back wall as I shook and paced the stage, and the fear that would course through my body every time I looked down to see all eyes on me.

Range of symptoms

This was the turning in point in my anxiety because this was one of the worst anxiety attacks I've ever had. It's funny to me that at the time, I still thought I was experiencing stage fright. I had the internet at my fingertips and all that I would have had to do was Google my symptoms and find it wasn't stage fright at all — but anxiety.

Thankfully, two years later I was finally diagnosed.

Now what I've described in these experiences may be different from other people; everyone reacts differently. Some people show symptoms of sweating, shaking or twitching, or have a fear of losing control or fear of dying. These are typical symptoms that some may experience with panic attacks. For me, I've never experienced the fear of dying but I have experienced derealization, or a feeling of unreality.

When experiencing anxiety attacks, most people feel apprehension or dread, have trouble concentrating or may be tense and jumpy. I've felt all of these, plus irritability on top of it all.

Thankfully there are different ways that you can treat anxiety attacks. There is cognitive treatment. that basically has you changing your negative thinking patterns and irrational worries, or exposer therapy, that has you confront your fears in a safe and controlled environment. This helps you to see that your fears can't harm you and slowly helps you overcome them as you experience them over and over again.

Medications are another option and some opt for this instead of doing exercise or different types of therapy. However most people do in fact need to take medication when their anxiety interferes with their everyday life and makes them live almost half-lives, as many sufferers tend to stay indoors and hardly socialize unless absolutely needed.

There are many resources out there for those who may need it. I'm no doctor or specialist but I do know what it is like living with these problems. Many trustworthy sites online are out there with information on the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. They also list different treatment options.

Reach out for help

My advice to anyone who might be reading this and wondering if they have anxiety, is to go to a professional and talk to them about it. The internet can only do so much and you can't self-diagnose problems that you may or may not have. If you feel as though a loved one might have these problems, talk to them about it, offer to help them find a doctor if it's truly bad, or be a support system.

What I'm trying to say is that anxiety disorders are a big deal, they can be crippling and they aren't something to really joke about. When you try to heal from these conditions, it takes a long time, and that’s OK, because there is no time limit on healing.

You'll have good days and bad days, but try not to let the bad days eclipse the good ones.

Olivia Judkins will be a senior this fall at Clearfield High School. Email her at LivvyJudkins99@gmail.com.

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