Living with Anxiety and Panic Attacks

To support University of Northampton’s Mental Health Awareness and Wellbeing Day one of our amazing students has provided some personal insight into a mental disorder that affects millions of young people around the world:

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a condition that can affect anyone — it doesn’t distinguish between age, background or social group. Even some of the most confident people you know may have suffered with anxiety. Recent research suggests that as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.

As with most mental illness, anxiety is no different in that it affects different people in different ways. Sometimes it can prevent people going to work, university or even leaving the house in severe cases.

The Symptoms:

The main symptoms include heart palpations, muscle tension, shortness of breath, feelings of going crazy, sweaty palms and many more — they are all really unpleasant feelings that people find difficult and distracting in their everyday lives.

My Journey:

About four years ago I started suffering from dizziness, not being able to concentrate and tightness around my heart. I didn’t think anything of it at first but decided to have tests at my doctor’s surgery; I thought I had diabetes or an overactive thyroid! I just wanted a diagnosis so I could take medication to make me feel better — unfortunately this wasn’t the case.

As a result I started to become scared to drive as when I did, my heart would race and my hands would shake and every day it seemed to get worse. As I started to worry about my strange symptoms I developed a lump in my throat which made me struggle with my breathing, I was starting to feel like I was going crazy and so I went back to the doctor.

The doctor then told me that I had anxiety, he said that my lump wasn’t real it was caused by stress and worry. He offered me anti-depressants, which I have been taking now for three years and they have helped the situation but I know that it takes more than just medication to help reduce the feelings of anxiety.

Two years ago I decided enough was enough, I had continuously researched ways to prevent panic attacks and deal with anxiety and realised that taking medication alone wasn’t enough. I found there were things to help cope better with my emotions:

1. I started going to yoga classes and started doing meditation at home or on my lunch break, I normally just go onto YouTube or download free apps on my phone for meditation. (This is easier for those who have never meditated before!)

2. I wrote a journal in order to understand the way I feel when I am most anxious and try to reason with my feelings — I believe instead of trying to find ways to distract you, you need to question your feelings and ask yourself ‘Do I really need to feel the way I do?’. I know it isn’t always that easy and sometimes I just can’t see clearly but if you make sure you find ways to help combat this as part of your daily routine you will see your feelings of anxiety subside.

3. Over the years I have had numerous counselling and hypnotherapy sessions and it has reduced my feelings of terror but I know that if I want to get better I need to put more effort into the little things as not only does it affect you but it affects the others around you.

4. It is important to let people know how you feel because, without the support from my friends and family I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every day! Saying that though, too much smothering can be a hindrance and taking your independence back is important. It needs to be one step at a time, don’t rush into anything or do what you don’t want to.

5. Don’t give up! Never give in and keep trying, every day is a fresh start to fight anxiety. Never let it stop you from doing what you want and living a normal life.

If you are like me when the feelings come and go and get worse or better, the setbacks bring you down — you need to understand that nothing lasts forever like the bad days and it won’t always be like that. Don’t give into yourself, take control and always ask for help!

Laura — third year student

If you’re interested in gaining more advice about mental health and wellbeing, then get involved in events happening across campus this week. Also if you suffer with a mental illness, we would love you to write a blog for us about your experience and what advice you can give others, so please get in touch: socialmedia@northampton.ac.uk