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‘Does a panic attack mean I need to put my course on hold?’

  • 8 Comments

Can you advise this student nurse?

“After doing an access course and working every hour I can, I finally started my nurse training in September.

“But everything seems to have gone wrong at once. My Dad’s not been well, my friend is getting divorced so has come to live with me and we have to move out of where I’m living. Plus I’ve just found out I’m not getting as much bursary as I thought.

“The other day I had a sort of panic attack. I was in a shop and was absolutely fine and then suddenly felt overwhelmed with fear and some emotion I don’t even know. It sounds awful, but I genuinely thought I was going to die and didn’t mind.

“I know the obvious thing to do is go see my GP but it’s clearly because I’m stressed, so will the doctor just tell me to put my course on hold until everything else is dealt with? I don’t see any other solution and I don’t want to take medication. I have a few questions for other student nurses (and nurses):

“How I can avoid putting the course on hold?

“Has anyone else ever felt like this?

“Will I have another panic attack, if that’s what it was?”

- Anonymous

 

Please use the comments section below to share your advice

If you would like to post a questions here, please email fran.entwistle@emap.com. We will publish first names only, but please let us know if you’d rather remain anonymous.

  • 8 Comments

Readers' comments (8)

  • Hi,
    Really sorry to hear you have had a panic attack - it's scary. I would strongly suggest you visit your gp and keep an open mind about taking medication. Sometimes some of us take medication for a short period during life.
    Although the course and placements can be exciting it can be challenging, for me anyway. I suggest keep talking to your friends, inform your personal tutor about your current circumstances. Take as much support from University that is available. Good luck!



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  • Katie Sutton

    Hi there! I'm really sorry to hear you've been struggling, however I want to assure you this absolutely doesn't mean you HAVE to take a break. I struggled a little towards the end of my first year and at the start of my second year and my personal tutor did suggest that I take a break - but I knew if I did, I wouldn't go back, and besides, being able to keep going would give me something to do/distract myself from anxieties at home with. See what help your university counselling service can offer (it will be confidential - the school of nursing needn't find out unless you want them to), look into IAPT (counselling/CBT) self-referral through your local NHS (you don't need to see your GP), and consider trying something like mindfulness meditation to keep your panic under control - practice it every day, so you have the skills ready to quell any future panic attacks. I really like the app Headspace for this :) hope it helps! I wrote a bit about my experience in a couple of my columns here on SNT this year (March and April) - this doesn't have to mean interrupting or dropping out, unless you think that's what's best for you.

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  • I empathise completely! I am sorry you have had this experience. It's made more difficult by how isolating it can be. It's difficult to explain to others exactly how bad it is unless you've had one. Nothing in my life has ever made me feel the intense fear that a panic attack does. In addition to the excellent advice in the other posts such as seeing your GP, maybe a uni counsellor etc, please keep the uni in the loop about this and they will support you through this. Keep your hope alive. Your body is reacting horribly but in its own LIMITED way and in the only way it knows how when its alarmed.
    I consider myself somewhat, (unfortunately), a bit of an expert in this area having had intermittent problems with panic disorder, anxiety and attacks over 20 years. But please do not think this means yours an inevitable - they are not! I have been unlucky with a number of factors contributing to mine and my circumstances will be different. I am only an expert on my own, not yours, but I will give you a few tips to remember which have helped me and maybe, just maybe, they'll help you and others too. 1 - during a panic attack, its overhwleming because your brain is basically working from its limbic system and you cant easily access the rational parts of yourself, so do not be disheartened by not being able to "control" it or "pull yourself together". Its designed to keep you safe and remove you from danger, so ironically, the symptoms will feel awful until they subside when your brain catches up to the idea that you're actually safe. This can take a little while. So, while its happening, its a case of managing it and not making it worse. 2 - to prevent it deteriorating, say loudly in your head that this WILL pass, it IS horrid but will pass eventually. 3 - do not try to fight it, you will alarm your brain even more and it will perpetuate. This goes against what it feels like, so is very hard to do. However, my tip is to get quite angry with it if need be and say to "it" (the panic), "OK, come on, do your worst!! Make my heart beat faster, make me sick, make me go mad, i dare you!". What happens is that you become more powerful than "it" and it will actually lose the feeling that its dominating you and you're at its mercy. You will feel more in control and the symptoms will begin to abate quite quickly. I found this a revelation and it really helps. 4 - like the late, great Claire Weekes (google her books) said " Do not despair!". Many people have these symptoms and the extent to which they dominate your life correlates to how much credence you give them. The more you worry, the more you add to this chemical cycle of adrenalin and stress hormone release. So practice relaxation at every available opportunity, NOT when you're actually panicking as its unlikely to work (remember I said you cant access your rational brain during these times?). Make yourself a half hour slot every night to listen to a relaxation CD and take it as seriously as your studies and other commitments. It gets easier to use techniques when you incorporate them as second nature. There are countless techniques you can try and panic attacks can be a transient signal that things are overwhelming, so do not think things will get worse. You can talk yourself into it. Say "this is a blip, its only a blip and things will improve" and as your situation changes over time, this will happen. Asking someone not to worry is like asking them not to think of pink elephants, so do not pressure yourself. Accept, accept, ACCEPT that these are natural bodily reactions to stress, no matter how frightening and you WILL recover as you practice. You own them, not the other way round. Much support exists, take it all! Good luck wit the circumstances and I just feel in my bones that you are one of many people (including me) who has succumbed to these horrible sensations and emotions during our studies. You WILL be fine again. Believe it and prioritise relaxation. Good luck with the rest of your studies and in your personal life. P.s. Have you guessed yet that anxiety and panic awareness is somewhat a soapbox issue for me?? Lol

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  • It must feel very difficult and scary for you to deal with all these things happening in your life at the same time.

    Consider however that being at uni, you are in one of the best places to access a wide range of support. Your student union / university will offer confidential psychological support / counselling sessions to help you deal with your stress and anxiety, as well as welfare support to help you tackle your financial worries.

    Then there is the support from your faculty: you should have a personal tutor who can offer both pastoral and academic support. Talk to them: whatever comes in the way of your studies, do let them know. If they are not aware of the problem, then they cannot help you. There will be a wide range of options available: applying for mitigating circumstances, taking some time off (to be exerted with caution, as you have to clock in a specific number of teaching / practice hours for your year of studies to be validated); deferring your studies if your uni has another cohort starting in February / March...

    These are just a few random examples, and your tutor will be able to discuss this with you and work out the best way to help you. On a very pragmatic side, your university is very keen for you to remain on the course, otherwise they will lose the funding for your place, so it is in everybody’s interests that you succeed in your studies.

    The main message is: the sooner you flag up your difficulties, whatever they are, the sooner you will be able to access the help available to you.
    You have already taken a very positive step in identifying your worries, and in posting your question on the SNT forum, so push the logic forward and tap into the support network provided by your uni.

    Good luck with it all

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  • It must feel very difficult and scary for you to deal with all these things happening in your life at the same time.

    Consider however that being at uni, you are in one of the best places to access a wide range of support. Your student union / university will offer confidential psychological support / counselling sessions to help you deal with your stress and anxiety, as well as welfare support to help you tackle your financial worries.

    Then there is the support from your faculty: you should have a personal tutor who can offer both pastoral and academic support. Talk to them: whatever comes in the way of your studies, do let them know. If they are not aware of the problem, then they cannot help you. There will be a wide range of options available: applying for mitigating circumstances, taking some time off (to be exerted with caution, as you have to clock in a specific number of teaching / practice hours for your year of studies to be validated); deferring your studies if your uni has another cohort starting in February / March...

    These are just a few random examples, and your tutor will be able to discuss this with you and work out the best way to help you. On a very pragmatic side, your university is very keen for you to remain on the course, otherwise they will lose the funding for your place, so it is in everybody’s interests that you succeed in your studies.

    The main message is: the sooner you flag up your difficulties, whatever they are, the sooner you will be able to access the help available to you.
    You have already taken a very positive step in identifying your worries, and in posting your question on the SNT forum, so push the logic forward and tap into the support network provided by your uni.

    Good luck with it all

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  • I am so sorry to hear of your awful experience - I had a panic attack a few years back and thought I was going to die. I haven't had one since although I sometimes start to feel a bit panicky but you can control them.
    All the advice given previously is great and will help you. I would add speaking to your family and friends as this will give you a feeling of security.
    One way of stopping the anxiety in its tracks is to 'belly breathe' - when you breathe in push your belly out rather than your chest. the more you do this the easier it gets and it helps to calm the body's panic reaction.
    I wouldn't put a hold on your nursing studies, you'll have lots of support if you want it and it would be harder to go back to if you did stop now.
    Good luck and take care.
    xx

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  • First I'm sorry you are going through this rough time and want to let you know you are not alone. I went through a similar situation last year.

    I lost my sister a few years ago and never dealt with it, bursary problems, my course and being away from home (I'm irish) finally got too much for me and I fell into a depression that caused my OCD tendencies to go into overdrive. It got to a stage where if I couldn't clean or organise something they way my head was telling me it should be my body would physically tense, my breathing would feel like it stopped and my head would feel so heavy I couldn't keep it up. It wasn't until I was at a party and had such a severe attack that an ambulance was called that I really realized how bad I had gotten. I had kept it all quiet until that night my fiance didn't even know what was going on. But still I plodded along even though he begged me to get help. Knowing that I'd listen to my father above everyone he begged me to call him but I was scared my father would think I was being over dramatic and think I was weird for letting little things get to me. I was in too much of a dark hole to take anyone's advice.

    I know now it was silly to think that but I was ashamed of myself for letting this happen to me. The real lightning bolt moment was going home at Christmas and being with my family. I have a huge family three brothers and five sisters plus partners and I had gotten to a stage where the crowd would bring on a panic attack (my own family made me panic) and yet I was still ashamed of myself and wouldn't tell anyone. Then one night I let it all spill to my Dad the constant OCD, the panic attacks and the constant feeling that something was going to go wrong and instead of calling me a freak or telling me to suck it up and get over it he talked to me for hours and tried his best to understand and told me despite what I thought of myself I was not weird and everyone had problems that they need help to get out of. My worst fear that a person I loved and respected so much would find me strange and weak did not happen and it took my breath away but in a good way. I felt like a weight had been lifted.

    After returning to London I contacted my University councellor and it was the best thing I've ever done. It took time but the sessions were amazing, to have someone listen to your greatest fears and darkest secrets without any form of judgement was exhilarating. And I would highly recommend it to anyone.

    Even writing this to you now is therapeutic because it reminds me I'm not alone. I AM NOT ALONE. And I want you to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We can be our worst enemies and eat away at ourselves but I want you to know that I think you're amazing for sharing your story and asking for help. I couldn't have done it a year ago so well done to you and I hope you begin your road to recovery soon.

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  • Some really good advise here, I suffer from them, although lately I keep telling myself NOT to be afraid of these attacks and so far so good!, best of luck you can do this!

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