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...

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LAST WEEK,

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

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