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Bo Burnham Talks About a Debilitating Part of Panic Attacks We Don't Often Discuss

Panic attacks suck, they just do. That pounding in your chest, losing control of your breath, dissociation, crying — the works. But what some people don’t realize is that the anticipation of a panic attack can sometimes negatively affect people just as much as the attack itself.

This is something Bo Burnham discussed in an interview with TIME, promoting a new movie he wrote and directed, “Eighth Grade.” He said he wanted the movie to address social anxiety and loneliness, two things that seem to flourish in middle school halls, and two things Burnham himself is intimately familiar with.

In 2016, Burnham stopped doing stand-up. He told TIME he had always been an anxious child, but he started experiencing panic attacks on stage in 2013. He said before every performance, he dreaded the possibility of having another one.

It was the roughest time in my life that last tour–the roughest. It felt like every night onstage there was just a f-cking ax hanging over my head and at any point this thing’s going to f-cking drop. And, like, I’m going to faint onstage and someone’s going to video it and post it everywhere.

Anticipation anxiety, or having anxiety about future anxiety, is common for people who struggle with panic attacks. For some people with agoraphobia, for example, the fear is not necessarily leaving the house per say, but that going somewhere new or uncomfortable will trigger an attack.

In a letter to her anticipatory anxiety, Mighty contributor Stephanie Parwulski wrote:

Why do you accompany every decision I make? Why do you cause me to second-guess myself? Why do you make it uncomfortable for me to go about my every day?

When I plan to spend time with a friend, you grow in intensity as the days approach our get-together. I so look forward to seeing my friend, but when I’m feeling nervous and tense because of you, I consider canceling my plans… My friends are an important part of my support system, and they make me feel safe and comforted by reminding me how much they care about me and how much they believe in me. Please believe in me too.

According to TIME, Burnham doesn’t have panic attacks anymore. Josh Hamilton, an actor who plays the protagonist’s dad in “Eight Grade,” said he could see how Burnham uses his anxiety as a force of creativity. “The way he channels his anxiety into a laser-like focus for what he’s going after is quite amazing,” he said. “His motor thrums at a higher level than most of us.”

How do you deal with having anxiety about anxiety? Tell us in the comments below.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Montclair Film

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