Panic attacks, anxiety and grief

So, I’m just in the planning stages of a book I’ve been contemplating writing for a while. I need to know a few things about anxiety, panic attacks, losing a parent and dealing with these things. Feel free to answer whatever you like, doesn’t have to be all of them, just whatever you’re comfortable with ((:

  • when did you first start having panic attacks and why?
  • what do they feel like and how long do they last?
  • do you have any triggers that causes them?
  • how often do you get them?
  • how do you deal with them and do they affect people around you like family and friends?

My character’s dad died when they were 15 quite suddenly in a car crash, and they are an only child. Basically, I want to understand how you deal with it. Being told they’re dead and what you do after that. Also how it affects your perspective on life and how you are around other people (or if it didn’t change anything at all). Literally anything you can tell me. I’ve lost grandparents before but never someone that close to me and I want to portray it right. However, the story actually takes place one year on from their dad’s death so how do you feel a year later? Is it easier to talk about it? Do you still think about them a lot?

So yeah. Also you don’t have to answer these specific questions or have experienced this stuff yourself. Literally anything about grief and loss, anxiety and panic attacks would be a massive help.

Thank you to anyone who answers!

  • when did you first start having panic attacks and why?

My panic attacks started late, around 24-25 when my parents were going through a really difficult divorce. I think they were mostly caused by stressed, just constant days and days of stress and worry about my mom and if she’d be okay. I realized later I had a lot of anxiety my whole life, but this event really kicked it into high gear and eventually lead to my diagnosis.

  • what do they feel like and how long do they last?
    I have a few different ‘attacks’. One I’d call more of a ‘anxiety attack’ where I start getting these spiraling thoughts and hyper worrying about past events and the future, my stomach hurts really bad, I get nauseous, I’ll have stomach “issues” hint hint, and I’ll have bad insomnia. This is more a symptom of my anxiety though, and happens pretty regularly, about once or twice a week. It can be triggered by literally anything that reminds me of something to be worried about.

I do have medication. But I have a lot of anxiety around getting it filled and often avoid it (I know, ironic), so I run out a lot. If I don’t have my medication, I usually treat it with Pepto, drinking soda water to settle my stomach, and taking a sleep aid just to get me to sleep, because I know I’ll feel better in the morning.
One of the big things people don’t talk about much with anxiety though is the stomach problems. Because of the nausea and stomach aches, I usually don’t eat when I have bad anxiety, which can be a problem for me long term when this goes on for a few days.

I didn’t have the “classic” panic attacks until a while after my anxiety got really bad. A panic attack for me is more like the I feel like I am drowning in the stress and anxiety instead of just treading water. I kind of get this wave of ‘dread’, I go clammy, my chest gets tight and its hard to breathe. I start crying for no reason. I usually feel like throwing up and sometimes I do. The worst one I was like hyper ventilating in between throwing up and almost passed out cause I literally couldn’t breathe. That was fun…

In those moments I really just shut down. Its so hard to function and it feels like wading through peanut butter trying to form thoughts other than the crushing stress of whats going on around you. I usually get really bad migraines afterwards.

  • do you have any triggers that causes them?
    Usually its triggered by a lot of stress where I realize I can not handle the situation. There is no way to handle it correctly or well. There is no way to fix it. There is no way to do it. I start just spiral spiral spiral until I realize I am crying and not breathing. But, this doesn’t have to be just a stressful situation. Sometimes its just getting a little overwhelmed and my brain decides to react that way. Thats usually when I get a low level panic attack where I shut down and kind of disassociate.

  • how often do you get them?
    Panic attacks I only get on occasion. I think I’ve had two or three major ones in the last year, with a few mini ones I can stave off with lots of deep breathing and a good distraction. And lots of the lesser ‘anxiety attacks’ in between.

As for how you could relate this to your character, while my situation wasn’t losing my parent, it kind of was at the same time. Its this realization that nothing will ever be the same. The situation will never be okay. You can’t fix it, its too late. You feel helpless, guilty for no reason. You so desperately want it to go back to normal and it will never be normal. It all comes crushing down until your brain just spazzes out. Then, once your body learns to react that way, it starts to happens more often and be triggered by other moments of feeling out of control.

Another thing I’ve noticed has changed is I am unhealthily attached to other things in my life I don’t think I could face loosing. Your character could go through something similar since he lost his dad and couldn’t do anything to save him.

For me, its my cat. I get hyper worried about her health and her safety and thinking about something happening to her is almost enough to give me a panic attack in itself. I know logically she is just a cat, but the idea of having her taken away is just so crushing. For example, I’ll get super worried about her and then get unrationally angry when my husband doesn’t share the same ridiculous level of concern about her. I’ll start to relate that back to me and how he must not love if he doesn’t care about my feelings about the cat and how he will leave me just like my dad left my mom and then BOOM I am spiraling in a full blown panic attack triggered by my cat not eating all of her food or something.

Sorry if that is like, super personal, but its just an example of how my brain spirals based off that really important attachment, despite the path there being pretty illogical.

So maybe your character could easily latch onto someone else in his life and have a panic attack triggered by the idea of loosing them too. Maybe his mom comes home late and he starts to imagine how she got into an accident and how he will be alone for the rest of his life and have no idea how to fix the situation, etc, et.

Those are just some ideas! Hopefully you can pull some inspiration from this. Sorry this is so long! I think my experience is a good one to share, since I didn’t realize I had really bad anxiety for a long time, since it didn’t match up the symptoms I thought anxiety entailed.

I was having really bad stomach problems around when my parents were going through their divorce and my doctor was insistent it was anxiety, but I rejected the idea since I am a very outgoing person and definitely not what you’d imagine when think ‘anxiety’. I went through months of tests until eventually, he gave me some anxiety medication and it literally solved all my problems. xD So yeah… Your character doesn’t have to act ‘anxious’ or be worried or shy to have anxiety. Most people I tell I have anxiety roll their eyes at me since I am very outgoing and adventurous. I learned anxiety isn’t just about being shy or being socially anxious, for me its more about over thinking every situation until I make myself literally sick with worry.

Anyways, feel free to ask me questions if you have any. I am pretty open to talking about it and probably oversharing with strangers on the internet. xD

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But when you do take it, how helpful is it? Also how often are you meant to take it?

So normally you get most anxious at night?

You don’t eat at all? does that worry you about your physical health, weight, etc?

That’s a great idea! I’ll definitely be doing something like this

So they don’t believe you / think you’re just being dramatic? That must be annoying…

I also had another question, If you’re with someone else, like a friend for example, when you suddenly start having a panic attack, how might they react? Like what do people do when they witness you having a panic attack or if it’s minor do they sometimes not even realise?

Also I’ve read that some people get so scared of panic attacks that they don’t go out in public too much because they’re worried they’ll have one. Have you ever had a panic or anxiety attack in public?

Thank you for the reply! It’s really helpful to hear someone’s real experience.

I have a situational medication I take when I am having bad anxiety or a panic attack. When I take that, about 15 minutes later this wave of calm just rolls over me and I feel so much better and back to normal. Its really nice to have, but my doctor wants me to go to a therapist so I have been avoiding him and haven’t gotten a new refill in a while, which is why my anxiety has been worse this year than before. I haven’t tried a daily medication because I have anxiety about the side effects. :sweat_smile:

Yes I get most anxious at night, unless I have something is happening during the day, and sometimes I will wake up with bad anxiety. Like if I have a doctors appointment or a meeting, I will wake up with an upset stomach and be anxious all day until that activity is over.

Yeah, I do worry about it, so I have a few methods to work with this. Anything carbonated helps a lot, so I will drink carbonated water to make sure I am drinking water, since regular water will make me nauseous. Then I will try to eat crackers, rice and beans, soup, some thing light just to make sure I actually eat. I am aware of the problem so I do my best to make sure I actually eat, even if I have no appetite for days at a time. I don’t think I have really lost weight because of it or anything though. I am pretty healthy eater out side of that, so I think it balances out.

A bigger issue to my health is avoiding doctor/dentists appointment since they make me so physically sick to go to.

Yeah a lot of relatives who think I am like a mental health trend chaser. “It seems everyone has anxiety now a days” or “You don’t have anxiety! You did yada yada the other day. How can you say you have anxiety?” And I am like Tell that to my panic attacks KAREN!. But, I haven’t had any panic attacks in front of them or anything so they don’t really understand how it effects me.

The biggest frustrating about being in public is if I am nauseous or I have really bad stomach issues. I get more anxious about having stomach issues and needing a bathroom, which just goes in an annoying circle! XD One time we had this group activity with some friends and I spent like 20 minutes in the bathroom trying to throw up cause I was so nauseous. This was before I had my medication, or taking it would have made that feeling go away.

Another times when I am alone I have felt myself disassociating and need to find a quite place to get myself back together. One situation was when I was taking care of my mom after a surgery and I totally had a panic attack, but didn’t want to worry her, so I was alone, wandering around a hospital, disassociated. I ended up finding the cafeteria and sat in a corner and listened to some music until I felt better. So yeah, it happens but I’ve never been like approached by strangers or caused any ruckus.

As for people reacting. My husband is pretty good about making sure I don’t need anything. Sometimes he tries to do too much though “Do you need this? What about that? Would that make you feel better?” And I get overwhelmed trying to think about how to feel better and how I am inconveniencing him, even though I know he doesn’t feel that way. He does his best, he is just a fixer and doesn’t know how to not try and fix things. xD

I have another friend who is good with anxiety and is always like “Do you want to do this” or “can you handle this” cause she knows I have bad anxiety around certain activities.

However, one time I was having a panic attack and called her cause I though she could help me. She ended up kind of going behind my back and telling people “I needed help” because of it and because of that reaction, I can’t call and talk to her anymore. So its a mixed bag when it comes to friends reacting. :man_shrugging:

Its helpful to learn what helps you get through it and being able to find that ‘safe space’ when you are out in public. Maybe you sit in your car for a while, or in a public restroom. I carry headphones around a lot so I can listen to music and help calm myself down.

I normally have problems when I am home, since I work from home and spend most my time there. That’s when I have time to think about things and start to spiral. Because of that I am constantly filling my head with noise. Music, pod casts, youtube videos, etc so my mind doesn’t wander down any dangerous paths.

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Okay, thank you! This is so much more useful than anything I’ve found online. I don’t think I have any other questions right now but I’ll probably think of something later :sweat_smile:Thanks again, I’m sure it’s not the easiest thing answering all my questions XD

Yeah thats why I didn’t think I had anxiety since my symptoms don’t really match what they tell you online and most representations you see are like social anxiety or agoraphobia.

Then again, Agoraphobia would be a very realistic reaction to his dad dying in an accident, so that type of ‘anxiety’ might be more what you are looing for.

Anxiety is a common symptom of a lot of bigger mental health problems. Your character could have PTSD from the trauma of losing his father and his brain is reacting with anxiety and panic attacks for example.

So yeah, there are a lot of different ways to go about it since everyone kind of experiences it differently.
No problem though! Feel free to reach out if you have more questions.

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I was around fifteen, possibly a little younger. My childhood had been quite rough - my mum had been through a divorce and had an on and off relationship with her current partner (followed by a second divorce), we moved often, my boyfriend died in a car crash, I was abused and beaten by the subsequent boyfriend, and I witnessed and was victim to some… traumatic events. The panic attacks began when I began to remember what had happened to me in my childhood (previously blocked out). They began at around the same time I was diagnosed with PTSD.

For me, my hands begin to shake and there’s a lump in my throat I can’t get rid of. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. Most of the time I’m around to still function during a panic attack, but that comes from years of having to function while having them. They last from around five minutes to maybe half an hour - an hour.

Stress is one of the biggest factors. Also triggers to my childhood - driving causes panic attacks (something I have to do every day), seeing my ex boyfriend (the abuser), seeing things that remind me of my circumstances as a child etc.

At the moment, I get them fairly often - maybe once every two days - because I’m finishing my final exams. Again, stress is a major factor.

My family don’t know. My friends are aware and know ways to help me prevent them - pulling me from the situation and grounding me in reality. I usually try to go about my day if possible.

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  • when did you first start having panic attacks and why?
    They started in highschool. I grew up as an only child of a mother with abusive and hyper-specific expectations of me. Thus, I was raised under the notion that all mistakes were bad and reflective of laziness and weakness of character. I did not truly understand what it meant to accept that I am human and fallible, so every single thing that I did wrong sent me into a downward spiral. My first one happened because of a mistake I made in public at a color guard competition. I tossed my equipment as a part of the choreography and instead of catching it, I dropped it. The show ended, I began to panic as we walked off the field.

  • what do they feel like and how long do they last?
    They feel like crap. I lose all trains of thought. My thoughts get stuck on a terrible and nasty loop. I get lightheaded and scared even though I know there’s nothing to be scared of. I lose my breath, and start to hyperventilate. It feels like I can’t do anything else but cry and wait for it to be over.

  • do you have any triggers that causes them?
    Since I graduated and am no longer in marching band, there are none in particular. More often than not I’m just overwhelmed and it shows.

  • how often do you get them?
    I’m undiagnosed. I get at least one a year. Once every 2 months (so five a year) was the worst I had. They last a while. Sometimes I have mini ones that are more common, but if I distract myself or talk myself down I can avoid those.

  • how do you deal with them and do they affect people around you like family and friends?
    I almost always need help. I just need someone to talk to me about something easy to follow that will distract me, like the weather or what they did at work that day. My family does not understand mental illness. My panic attacks would scare them. They also weed out good friends from ones that don’t end up staying in my life. Even the ones that don’t know what to do always ask if I’m doing alright and ask what they can do to help, which I appreciate better than the weird looks or offensive questions (like being asked if I’m on drugs, which has actually happened.)

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@breathingchemicals @sherwrites thank you so much for the replies! This is really gonna help me portray it better I think. I’ll let you know if I think of anymore questions.

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So like, you can’t go in a car at all?

And how do the people around you deal with them? Or do they not know?

Thank you for the reply! It’s super helpful

Thank you! I’ll let you know if I have any more questions :))

Fifteen years old. My brain just panics, not for any actual reason, it finds problems where there is none, and self-doubt where there shouldn’t be. Panic attacks are different from anxiety attacks, though. Panic attacks don’t need a reason to happen. Anxiety attacks do. However, an anxiety attack could cumulate into a panic attack.

Anxiety attacks feel… strange. It’s not like breathing heavy and crying (all the time) sometimes it’s just a stirring in your gut. My hands shake really bad, and I get sweaty. My thoughts start to loop–and I’ll focus on the negative. Whatever’s caused this anxiety tends to overwhelm me, and all i want to do is escape the situation.

Panic attacks are terrifying the first go around. I actually thought I was dying. It triggers a fight or flight response inside of you, and your heart races, your breathes start to get heavy and there’s sometimes a slight pain in your chest. You feel like the world is ending, like you’re doomed, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Again, panic attacks aren’t actually triggered by anything, they come and go as they please. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, do have triggers which can be set off.

About once or twice a week.

I don’t let it affect anyone else. It’s my thing to deal with. I’ve been through a ton of therapy and have learned a lot about how to control myself, and how to clam myself down. In the past, I know it’s been a stress factor. Sometimes my friends and family will have to not talk to me. If I’m having an anxiety attack, the first step is calming myself down before it rises into a panic attack, so sometimes I will sort of slide away from socializing for a short time why I gather myself. I communicate to others what is going on. “I’m feeling a lot of anxiety around, I’m going to go to the bathroom to wash my face.” Stuff like this. If I’m having a panic attack, I try to get to somewhere where I can be alone.

My suggestion to you would be to research more into both anxiety and panic attacks to know the difference, and what you’re dealing with. If your character is going to be going through therapy, then they will (eventually) understand these key differences, since it’s their mental health.

The science of both what triggers anxiety (in the brain) and how panic attacks and anxiety attacks are looked at in the medical field are also important. Why understanding the real emotions behind it (from real people) is arguably the most important thing to know before writing about a character who struggles with this particular mental health issue, tons of research is needed in order to get the ‘little things’ right. Anxiety (and attacks) affect people differently. I

I’ve never lost anyone close to me, but it’s case-by-case, and entirely dependent upon the individual.

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Thank you for the reply! This was really helpful.