Anxiety disorder is a generic mental illness dealing with panic attacks and constant unease. It directly involves areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and amygdala. There are branches of it such as social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorder, but people effected by these feel the same things.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder this past year, although I’ve known for almost five years that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. I am on medication to help me with my disorder, and have seen a huge improvement in myself and my tendencies on how to act towards other people.
The thing about anxiety is that it’s different for everyone who has it. What I say could be different from what you say, but nevertheless we all want the same thing in the end: to be okay.
It’s harder than it looks, and it’s not a switch you can just turn on and off. If your friend tells you that they’re feeling anxious and about to have an attack, take them away from the situation they are in and ask what they need you to do. Support means so much, and just asking what they need and being there will already calm them down a bit.
A typical anxiety attack means heavy breathing or hyperventilating, sobbing, shaking, and blurry vision. You can also lose focus or not be able to force your mind away from your attack. Anxiety attacks at a greater volume can mean passing out, extreme heightened senses, and loss of feeling in your legs or whole body. They are terrifying, and feel as if you’re out of control. You feel uncomfortable and scared and vulnerable all at once, and it can take a serious toll on mental and physical health.
Most people who have anxiety disorder don’t like to be touched during an attack because it makes them feel violated. Some people only like when designated people are near them, or some people just need a giant hug to feel safer. For example, I only allow my mom and my best friend to touch me if I’m about to have an attack because they’re the only two people who know what to do for me.
People with anxiety can’t control it, and sometimes it doesn’t even have a trigger. It could be a normal day until suddenly you can’t breathe. It’s that sudden. Yelling or telling us to calm down won’t help at all, and neither will drawing attention to the person. Be calm and understanding, and plan ahead of time. If your loved one has anxiety, sit down and ask them what you can do if an attack occurs. That way you’re already prepared to help.
If your friend doesn’t come to school or hang out with you because they say they have anxiety, don’t judge them. Don’t roll your eyes. Respect them and understand they are struggling to remain lucid. Give them space and let them breathe.
We aren’t crazy. We aren’t oversensitive. We just need support from the people we love, and in order to get that everyone has to be educated on what anxiety disorder is and how it feels. So go on and tell your friends you love them, and that you’re always there to help whenever they need a hand. It could change their whole world.