I’m the girl who has always wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the girl who loves to travel all around the world, who wants to cliff dive in Hawaii and climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. But then one day something happened that changed the adventure seeker in me and made me very afraid of even going outside.
I was sitting in a conference in London when I started feeling quite light-headed. Everything was spinning. I was getting quite hot and uneasy and thought I might faint. A rush of feelings filled my entire body and my heart began to beat out of my chest. My breathing became faster, I became dizzy and unaware of my surroundings and all that was going on in my head was, ‘I’m having a heart attack, I’m going to die.’
Being raced to accident and emergency I was in a state. Tears were running down my face, I was shaking, but all I could do is wait. At this point I didn’t know I was exaggerating, I really thought I was in trouble and that my body was failing me, but it wasn’t. It was a panic attack. Over the next couple of days I was experiencing panic attacks several times a day and had no idea what was happening to me. My parents would tell me to breathe and to distract myself, but that didn’t seem to work at all, in fact it made my sensations become more intense.
Anxiety isn’t just worry
Everybody experiences anxiety from time to time. Having an anxiety disorder is so much more than someone just worrying too much; it affects every part of that person’s life. I went from working in one of the busiest cities in the world, having a great social life to losing my job and being scared of even going out of my house in case I had a panic attack.
When you have a panic attack it feels like your body is filling up with lava ready to erupt and there’s nothing you can do about it. You want to pray, cry and get out of your body, but the more you wish it’d stop the worse the sensations get because ultimately you’re just putting more fuel into the fire. You struggle to get up in the morning because you’re mentally and physically exhausted. Your mind is in constant overdrive thinking all day in a perpetual state of fear.
What if somebody thinks I’m crazy and I get locked up in a mental institution?
We live in a world where there is a stigma attached to mental health, therefore people who suffer from an anxiety disorder tend to keep it to themselves. We don’t want to be told we’re crazy by the doctor and we don’t want to talk about it because people who haven’t suffered it just don’t understand. The Mental Health Foundation estimate that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, whilst one in six experience a neurotic disorder such as anxiety or depression.* But this number is probably higher as a lot of sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated.
Acceptance is key
When you panic your body goes into the flight or fight response. That means that adrenaline rushes through your body getting you to either run away or fight what is at threat. We need this response in our body because it keeps us safe. If there were a fire, we’d run. If there were a tiger in front of us, we’d run. During a panic attack your body thinks it’s under threat and releases adrenaline through your body. The reason you think you’re going to faint is because the blood rushes to your legs and arms for fighting or running – because that’s what you need when you’re under attack.
From suffering from anxiety and panic attacks I’ve learned that you don’t have to live with it. It’s not permanent. You can get through it; you’ve just got to face it. When you’re scared of heights, what do you do? You can either stay on the ground and look up at the skyscraper or you can get up there and face your fear. When you’re anxious or going into a state of panic, what do you do? You usually tell yourself, ‘oh crap, I’m going to have a panic attack, I’m having a heart attack, I’m going to die, go away, go away, go away!’ These catastrophic thoughts are normal in this situation because of all the sensations that you’re feeling. But what you should do is observe, accept and demand more of what you’re feeling. Feel every sensation and accept being uncomfortable.
Now this is easier said than done, but there’s one program that really helped me and now I’m back on my feet without an anxiety disorder. The Panic Away program teaches you that you’ve got to accept the sensations you’re feeling and not resist them, because what you resist persists. Once you accept the thoughts and sensations then your body will automatically calm down and return to normal.
Barry McDonagh, the creator of the Panic Away program suffered from panic and general anxiety. It got to the point where he never felt safe except at home in case he’d have a panic attack in public. Barry eventually had to reach out and find help and with research he found that the only solution was to take anti-anxiety medication or to try therapy that would help him ‘cope’ with the panic. But he didn’t want to just ‘cope’.
Nearly all the books out there for panic and anxiety aren’t written by somebody who has suffered them. Breathing and distracting yourself doesn’t help, but only a person who has an anxiety disorder would know that. One day Barry did the opposite of what the books were telling him to do, he faced his panic, and by not fighting it, he freed himself from it. He created the Panic Away program and created the 21-7 Technique to reduce panic rapidly and then to reduce general anxiety within a short period of time. The Panic Away program has been purchased by over 70,000 people globally and has helped so many people to get their life back.
I was lucky to find this program within a few months of my anxiety surfacing and in addition to this program I have incorporated daily meditation and yoga into my life. Meditation trains your mind to take a moment out of your day to find calm and clarity wherever you are. Andy Puddicombe, creator of Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness expert and is the voice of the Headspace app that guides you through daily meditation, from 10 minutes a day right up to 60 minutes. If you meditate once or twice it won’t automatically make you feel 100% better, meditation is a process that you carry on throughout your life and with time your mind learns new techniques on how to deal with stress, anxiety and overthinking.
Anxiety isn’t something you have to live with forever - even if you’ve suffered for 15 years. So many people out there including myself are living proof that you don’t just have to cope. It takes time to recover, but when you do you’ll feel like an even better version of yourself and you’ll feel free.
The Panic Away program - www.panicaway.com
Headspace meditation - www.headspace.com