Dealing With Anxiety And Emotional Detachment  

Studies say that there are roughly 27 distinct emotions and around 34,000 nuanced versions of them and yet, if you asked me to describe the anxiety I face, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how it makes me feel. But I’ll try. 

Imagine a wave. You can’t predict when the next one is going to roll in, but when it does, it’s all at once. That’s kind of how my anxiety feels like – being washed over with unexpected emotions before I’m left trying to get rid of that overwhelmingly icky feeling in my chest. And while I’m still trying to figure it all out, here’s my experience with anxiety so far and how I learned to deal with it with help from friends, family and a whole lot of patience. 

How my anxiety began and the feelings that came with it

dealing with anxiety

The first time I experienced an anxiety attack was when I was 17, sitting in Terminal 4 at ‘O’ Coffee Club studying with friends. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, something felt off that day. One moment I was flipping through my Chemistry notes and the next, there was this immense feeling of discomfort in my chest. 

All the sounds around me suddenly became louder, and the lights brighter. Even the familiar faces of friends became strange and distant. I got scared. My whole body became stiff and when I finally managed to make a dash for the toilet, I locked myself in the stall and started crying uncontrollably. I didn’t know how that feeling arose, and worse, how to get rid of it. Once I managed to finally leave the ladies’s room, I kept my head down and mumbled a quick goodbye to my friends – the study session was definitely over for me. 

At first, I assumed it was just the stress of studying for A’ Levels, but it started happening more often. Each time, I would get this tight feeling in my chest and everything around me would feel amplified, almost like a sensory overload. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I just shrugged off every incident as growing pains. Eventually, I graduated from JC and thought “hey no more stress!”. But boy was I wrong. 

In fact, it started taking on different variants. It evolved from momentary discomfort into bursts of frustration over nothing, which would make me lash out at the people around me. Even on days I’d make it through without crying or getting angry, I’d go home and just break down in private. Following each episode, my mind would be on “snooze mode” for a week, and getting out from under the covers would take more emotional energy than I had to spare. 

In social situations, I would often freeze up or need to “escape”, even if just for a moment, to calm myself down. And while I doubt that Google is the best substitute for a doctor, after some quick research I realised the experiences I was going through most closely resembled anxiety attacks.

The way anxiety started to impact my day to day life 

dealing with anxiety

As the days passed, the episodes became more viciously staggering. See, before all this, I was a relatively social person. Talking to people was something I loved, especially with new faces. This changed drastically as my anxiety made it difficult to even leave the house. What was once second nature to me became alien – I simply wasn’t the same person anymore. 

Going out alone was a whole other feat – many times I would plan an outing but end up too petrified to leave the house. And on days I did leave, the whole time I’d just want to run back to my safe space of a room.

I’d be standing in a queue, and out of nowhere, I’d get that all-too-familiar feeling in my stomach. It would seem like everyone was watching me, even if they weren’t and I’d start crying. The words I needed to say aloud would only reach my lips in the form of incoherent mumbles, so I’d leave without whatever I was planning to get. I was basically an adult who couldn’t even order her own food – freakin’ loser

My family: supporting me since day one

Not wanting this to control me, I decided enough was enough. I knew I had to seek help from others, starting with the ones nearest and dearest to me: my family. Thankfully, they were open and willing to try and understand. 

My inner circle of friends also began to notice my change in behaviour, which resulted in me confiding in them too. I’m grateful I did, since they became my primary support system outside my home. 

If we went out as a group and I had a breakdown, they’d give me the space and time to calm down and recollect myself. They were my shields when I was in public – and for that, I’m forever grateful. But while things started looking up, the anxiety attacks kept persisting.  

Feeling disconnected and detached from reality 

dealing with anxietyWhat my resting face in public places kinda looks like

There’s this scene in Pixar’s Inside Out where Sadness suddenly decides she wants to have more control. For me, sadness took over even when the events of the day depicted otherwise. In the midst of joyous occasions, I’d be dizzy with delight for what seemed like only a second, before my blue buddy would completely take over. 

To put up with that, I’d force myself to be overly energetic and bubbly in social situations, thinking I’d let the “other person” assume control later. I also saw this as a way to mask any anxiousness I had but if I’m being honest, this was just as emotionally draining as expressing my attacks. However, I saw it as a way to not expose my “ugly” side.

In doing so, I became increasingly detached from my emotions because they weren’t feelings to me anymore, they were simply masks I put on. Whenever I was tucked away from view or completely worn out, I’d let all the emotions explode. My routine once that happened: listen to music, pretend I relate to all the lyrics and just cry myself to sleep. That was my way of “dealing with it”. 

Clearly, it wasn’t working because when it came to big experiences in my life or important changes, I’d just feel numb. Over time, it was only through writing about the moments or connecting the emotions to songs that helped me feel better. Eventually, I’d recount the moments to close friends and family or share the songs with them.

Impact on my school, work & friendships 

Juggling school was particularly challenging because I also worked part-time at a children’s climbing gym. I was always terrified that I would get an anxiety attack in the middle of a class. 

As they say, trouble is a friend, and so during a coaching workshop my worst fears came out to play. I couldn’t get my part down for a particular segment and it triggered that familiar wave to roll in. My focus had suddenly shifted to hiding tears in front of everyone else in the room, and having to explain what just happened to their now shocked faces. 


Containing my anxiety proved to be extra difficult in public places where I had little to no control over the environment. For example, I’m in climbing for my school CCA, so there would be days where the gym seemed extra crowded and I would struggle to not become a panicked mess. And, when in a group filled with new faces, I felt a lot safer just keeping quiet. 

From the social butterfly who once loved talking to strangers, I’d somehow become a hermit crab. Even in just exchanging pleasantries with others, I’d feel the incessant need to hide. Holding a conversation became a chore because I’d be trying to manage what was going on in my head without showing it on my face. 

With all that was happening, it felt like I had lost control of not just myself, but the relationships around me. The things I loved to do like going out and trying new things didn’t carry the same appeal anymore. 

Also read:

Being Kicked Out Of A Clique In School Taught Me To Appreciate My Self-Worth

 Seeking counselling & realising it’s a journey, not a race


Sick and tired of being sick and tired, I found myself thinking, “why don’t I just let myself chill?” after a friend had mentioned the usually triggering words, “just relax”.  

I didn’t want to look back at life and say I stopped myself from doing things to the best of my ability because of my anxiety. Neither did I want to lose any more control over my own life, and I knew the only way I was going to overcome that was by picking myself up.

And so, I finally decided to give counselling a go – but I only ended up going for one session. The decision was made after talking to a friend who also had gone for counselling and it seemed to be helping her. While I believe counselling works for some, it just didn’t feel right for me. Counselling sessions just felt too polite and formal and this made it difficult for me to be truthful or even consider being fully honest in the future. 

Add in how ridiculously difficult it was to arrange sessions at the time as well as how I felt like I had my friends and family in my corner, I believed that what I really needed was to commit to making myself better. 

dealing with anxietyMy support system aka my besties 

While I had briefly spoken to friends and family about what was going on, I made the conscious decision to really open up about what was going on in my head. By talking to them, I could process my thoughts and feelings better. Over multiple HTHTs, everything was now laid out in plain view, and I could reflect more clearly on what was going on while having people help me understand each attack more objectively.

In fact, it allowed me to recognise patterns and things about my anxiety I hadn’t before. This meant I could take note of what triggered my anxiety, how it made me feel and the actions that helped me. 

Gradually, I stopped letting my anxiety put a damper on my aspirations. If I wanted to do something, I would put on a brave face and do it, even if it felt uncomfortable. When I was out and I had an anxiety attack, I would talk myself through the process patiently. The more I was self-aware about my feelings before they happened, the faster I was able to snap out of them and move on. 

dealing with anxiety

Additionally, what truly helped the most was sectioning out parts of my week to just be alone, to centre myself and reboot – this gave me more energy to get through days when I’d be busier or have to be in more situations where there were fewer things I could control.

During these moments, I gave myself things to do that I refer to as “away from judgement” tasks. For example, writing or playing the guitar. I would practice in private, because doing so made me feel good without having to worry about how skilled I was or what other people thought. Whatever I did in these moments was just for me and I knew I had complete control over them. 

And while it was extremely difficult and uncomfortable at first, I let myself go out and do things on my own. Frankly, if there’s one good thing about the Circuit Breaker we had, it allowed me to go for short walks or out to run errands on my own, forcing me to get more familiar with being in solitude. I would make a list of things I needed or wanted to do so that I had something to focus on. This kept my mind from wandering off and overthinking, in turn allowing me to get more comfortable in public places. 

I finally had a planned process to follow and bit by bit, I could actually see and feel my mental state getting better. 

Misconceptions and advice for others experiencing anxiety attacks

dealing with anxiety

I’m not a specialist, nor can I speak on behalf of everyone with anxiety, but here’s some advice and misconceptions from my own experience, for those who are also going through something similar.

Acknowledge your feelings 

First and foremost, don’t disregard how you’re feeling. Even if all is going well in your life in other areas, that doesn’t mean you need a reason to justify what you’re going through to others. Instead, be patient with yourself. You are allowed to take a break and let yourself recoup. After all, your well-being should come before anything else.  

Confide in people

Additionally, talk to your friends and family. While they might not be able to help you, knowing that there are people who are willing to listen makes a difference. If you’re not ready to talk to anyone just yet, try writing down how you’re feeling, or the events that took place that day to help you recall specific triggers or what helped you calm down that day. Consolidating your thoughts will help you understand your anxiety better. 

Plan your schedule for mental preparation

Also, plan your time well. Mentally prepare yourself before going out or facing something that you think will heighten your anxiety. You can even talk to your reflection in a mirror – tell yourself things like “today is going to be a good day, and I’m going to be fine!”. While it might sound odd, it helps to put your mind in a positive mental state, so even if you’ve got a stressful day ahead, you’d be starting out on the right foot. 

When you’re out in public, bring a water bottle and have something on your wrist or even a ring on. Surprisingly this helps me a whole lot. Whenever I have a breakdown in public, drinking water helps me calm down and it’s a great way to hide my crying face. Having a keychain or anything to fidget with also helps you reconnect with reality when you’ve started spiralling out. In a sense, it gives you something to hold on to and keep grounded. 

Advice for those with friends experiencing anxiety

On the other hand, if you know someone who has anxiety or is going through something similar, you can help them by just letting them know that you’re there if they need help. It’s also important to know when to leave them alone to calm down, without feeling rejected. 

As much as you want to make them feel better, don’t enable them to avoid difficult situations all the time – this doesn’t help them. Instead, it’s better if you allow them to face their anxiety but be supportive the moment it gets tough. If they’ve been staying at home a lot or avoiding certain responsibilities, encourage them to go out. The idea is to allow your friend or family member to get out of their head, not make it comfortable for them to avoid dealing with fraught situations. 

Finally, avoid saying patronising things like, “calm down” or “stop worrying”. While your words may have good intentions, from personal experience, it might make them feel even more anxious. It just reminds them that they aren’t feeling comfortable and that at the moment, they don’t have control over their emotions.

Being anxious or having an anxiety attack doesn’t always mean that someone is stressed out or going through something – even if they’re crying. Don’t get upset if they can’t tell you what’s wrong either. Sometimes, even they don’t know what’s going on or at least, how to put what they feel into words. 

Essentially, the keyword is patience. You’re not going to get better overnight and if your friend is the one going through it, they need time to figure it out too. Take the time to slowly accept and understand what you’re going through and eventually, you’ll find something that works for you. It could be counselling, meditating, or something as simple as giving yourself some “me” time.

How I Dealt With Having Anxiety Attacks & Feelings Of Detachment With Help From Friends & Family

There’s a quote that goes, “Go easy on yourself. Whatever you do today, let it be enough” and that’s just how I think it should be. It took me a while to get the hang of dealing with my anxiety and at times I truly wanted to give up, but it can indeed get better.

You just have to start by taking a step in the right direction, even if it means taking a step back first. Accept that some days won’t go as planned, but trust that there will come a time when you can say, “I did it”. 

For further assistance, here are some helpful sites and Instagram pages you can go to if you need someone to talk to or help in understanding your anxiety:

Crazy Head Comics: An Instagram page that provides guidelines, advice and promotes mental health awareness through graphics by Matilda.
Limitless: An organisation that aims to help youths and provides counselling sessions and support through calls or texts. (Shan You Counselling Centre): A local Instagram page that provides advice, guidelines, and webinars to cope with mental health. They are also run by a counselling centre you can go to if you need someone to talk to about your mental well-being.
Samaritans of Singapore: A non-profit organisation that provides emotional support for individuals facing mental health issues. 

All images courtesy of Ilarnna Chrisandra. 

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Growing Up With A Tiger Dad Gave Me An Anxiety Disorder And This Is How I Cope With It