Anxiety is affecting more and more people, yet it remains a private issue because people are afraid to speak up through fear of being judged as weak. Those who are outwardly happy, confident and successful suffer as much as anyone else, but often they are the last ones to seek help. Here we share a fascinating and brutally honest personal story…
Sitting at my desk, that old familiar feeling takes hold; a pain in my sternum that grows exponentially until I’m sure someone is actually standing on my chest. A racing heart that I’m convinced is about to give up on me (No! Not today! I have so much to live for!) and of course, the customary sweaty palms stopping me from gripping my desk fully, just in case my shaky legs decide to run out of here. Now. Anywhere.
Unable to concentrate on the task at hand, my mind furiously scans through everything I have to do by 6pm: emails, reports, meeting with Reece in accounts. And then there’s dinner with the girls later; how do I even get to the other side of town from here? What if there’s a train strike? I can always take the bus. But what if it’s late? I suppose there’s Uber, but I shouldn’t really, I’ve taken 10 in the last month and payday is still over a week away. I could cycle? I may die. Would anyone come to my funeral? Oh god, who will pay for it? And what will happen to my stuff? My poor parents. Oh heck, I must ring them; it’s been weeks. They’ve probably disowned me and promoted my sister to prodigal child. Never mind, favouritism was fun whilst it lasted.
Recognise this? Maybe you didn’t have to attend that dreaded meeting with Reece (he talked for AGES), but if you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone.
Over 18% of Americans and 14% of Britons will suffer from anxiety at some point in their life.
Mine began at 22; leaving university and entering the workplace, I desperately wanted to succeed. Working all hours at a local accountancy firm whilst interviewing in the evenings for junior roles at various inner city banks, I felt overwhelmed, but then so did everybody. Didn’t they?
Save for one trip to A&E at 23 when it felt like my chest was caving in (I got nothing but a minor arrhythmia diagnosis and a doctor eyeing me and my elevated pulse suspiciously), I mostly ignored the intermittent pains slowing increasing in severity, such was my desire to get my foot on the career ladder and work my way to the top.
But as a wise man (okay, Spiderman’s uncle) once said: “With great power, comes great responsibility”. And I could hack that responsibility I thought, well at least externally.
Sadly, 10 years later that sporadic pain had become a permanent fixture in my life. I’d forgotten what it was like not to feel some kind of physical pressure in the vast space between my shoulders and stomach, so I just accepted it as the norm. On the outside, I was a regular woman with a rewarding job, nice apartment and a good bunch of friends. On the inside, I was a wreck. An anxiety-ridden over-thinker who worried about everything and began rapidly developing irrational phobias…
So what if there was little chance of death-by-jellyfish occurring in the financial district? It didn’t stop me spending hours googling: ‘What to do in the event of…’ to ensure I was Scout-level prepared. On a Wednesday afternoon. In October. And 20 minutes before the monthly board meeting at which I was presenting my report on emerging markets. The latter could wait; this was a case of life and death, people!
Seeing me exasperated and at breaking point, a friend suggested I try exercising.
Yes I’d heard of it, yes I’d dabbled before, but in the absence of a full frontal lobotomy, I agreed to give it another go because I needed a helping hand. Quickly. And definitely before my inevitable, premature demise in the forthcoming Zombie Apocalypse I’d begun fretting about almost daily.
So I threw myself into it – swimming every morning before work and doing Pilates in the evening and at weekends. Initially, people questioned why I had gone from doing nothing to everything and I was inclined to agree. But then the changes began to happen; I felt calmer and became more focused. When I swam, my mind stopped whizzing at 300mph. It was just me, myself and the water. I learned to control my breathing, which benefited me even when not exercising. Plus, that me-time-before-office-time meant I approached the day ahead differently; I knew I could cope. Heck, if I’d managed to get up at 5am, walk the mile to the pool, do a 40 minute session and then walk to work, I was stronger than I thought.
Doing Pilates after a hard slog at the office (although often the last thing I wanted to do) was just as cathartic. The flowing movement released the involuntary tension in my body and I couldn’t help but feed off the relaxing and indeed positive energy in the class.
With a bit of effort, fitness gave me an outlet for all the nervous system-induced adrenaline, and amazingly, some control of my life after years of having very little. Although a commitment, the benefits were more than worth it.
And the pain? It comes occasionally, when things get particularly stressful. But that’s the reality of modern life, right? Sometimes you just have to be prepared for an attack of the land and sea-based brainless monsters.
Connect here with our resident WatchFit Expert Roseanna Miller