Anxiety is normal. It’s hiding it that’s dangerous
To mark World Mental Health Day, Annabel Jones reveals how she’s learned to embrace her own panic attacks...
SUPERMODEL Gisele Bündchen revealed that she suffered from panic attacks that were so crippling, she considered taking her own life. ‘I felt powerless,’ she said. ‘ Your world becomes smaller and smaller, and you can’t breathe, which is the worst feeling I’ve ever had. I actually had the feeling of, “If I just jump off my balcony, this is going to end, and I never have to worry about this feeling of my world closing in.”’
I know this feeling all too well. Having always been mildly claustrophobic, the older I became, the more it took hold. Lifts, aeroplanes, crowds and enclosed spaces all made me feel anxious, though I could hide it well.
Then, a couple of years ago, out of the blue, I had a full-blown panic attack. It began with pins and needles in my left hand. Quickly, the sensation spread up my arm. As I stood up to shake it off, I felt a sudden rush of blood to my head and the dizziness set in. My heart was racing. I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was dying. Eventually, I felt myself black out. As I’d never fainted before, the sensation of losing consciousness was terrifying. What I thought was a heart attack, was, it turns out, a panic attack; my body’s way of shutting down and pressing the reset button. What I now know is that Gisele and
I are not alone. ‘Statistics report that 30-40% of us suffer from some form of depression or anxiety, yet most clinical psychologists would agree that the actual figure is more, as many don’t admit to it,’ explains clinical psychologist Linda Blair. ‘ Women in particular beat themselves up, but feelings of anxiety are actually very normal. It’s the hiding of it that makes it dangerous.’
Functional anxiety, says psychologist Elaine Slater from Cloud Twelve, is on the rise, and especially prevalent among high-achievers. ‘From celebrities to models, influencers to bankers, it is increasingly common with those in fast-paced careers. They appear to be functioning: hitting their targets, meeting deadlines, showing up for public speaking events and posting regularly on social media. Yet inside they are suffering and feel like they can’t speak up,’ explains Slater.
Indeed, it is raising awareness of our common universal struggles that World Mental Health Day is all about. Thankfully, like Gisele, fashion and beauty influencers are beginning to use their social media platforms to open up about mental health issues. Make-up artist Sam Chapman (@pixiwoos), beauty and lifestyle vlogger and podcaster Estée Lalonde (@esteelalonde) and fashion influencer Aimee Song (@songofstyle) have all posted about their own struggles with anxiety and depression recently.
Estée Lalonde, who hosts new podcast series On The Line With Estée Lalonde, recently uploaded a vlog to Youtube that took her viewers through 24 hours in a particularly challenging ‘anxiety day’. Estée tells me she’s never had a more overwhelming response. ‘It was the level of detail in the comments. It was like people were itching to talk about it and I had given them permission to finally open up.’ While she starts the video crying, she takes the viewers along with her for the day, explaining the self-care routine that helps her get through difficult patches, from pampering to nutrition. In her most recent podcast, Estée chats with Emma Lucy Knowles, author of The Power Of Crystal Healing, whose Reiki sessions have been instrumental in helping Estée through her anxiety. ‘Reiki with Emma was the first sign of relief I’d had in a long time,’ she explains.
So what have my struggles with anxiety taught me? That it can be overcome. Anxiety doesn’t have to define you. In fact, it can be the making of you. This realisation happened once I accepted that anxiety was merely my body’s physiological response to a stressful situation. Nothing less, nothing more. I could, and can, move through it without shutting down.
I still suffer from anxiety now and then, but I’m not frightened of it any more. I embrace it as part of who I am. As Estée told me, ‘It’s about being honest, regardless of the outcome. It just is what it is. You can live with anxiety and still do amazing things.’ World Mental Health Day is on 10 October. Visit mind.org.uk for information
ANXIETY DOESN’T HAVE TO DEFINE YOU