Anxiety: it's time to break the stigma
Until recently, anxiety has been something many people have chosen to keep to themselves. Bupa’s social media specialist Renee Bugg opens up about her family’s struggle with anxiety – and says it’s time to break the stigma.
I used to think that everyone thought the way that I did. I thought that lying awake at night worrying about something I said two years ago, or feeling like my chest was going to implode as I struggled to catch my breath, were normal things. But they were things that people just didn’t talk about.
Then one day, a particularly bad day, I found myself having to get off a busy morning train, heart racing and head filled with cotton wool, to sit on the platform to try to catch my breath.
As I sat and watched train after train go by, I realised that maybe it wasn’t normal to feel this way. Maybe it wasn’t the way everyone felt, and maybe there was something seriously wrong with me.
Later that night, I spoke to my partner about how I felt and tried to explain how the feelings of panic were limiting my world; looking for some reassurance that I wasn’t alone.
Instead he told me that he was pretty sure that most people didn’t feel like that. He certainly never felt like that. He was kind and concerned, but also clueless as to what could be causing it.
We booked an appointment for the doctor, who seemed less concerned.
“Anxiety. Likely generalised. Will need medication, a good therapist, and time. In the meantime try some exercise and rest.”
She handed over the script, a referral letter and reassured me I wasn’t crazy, nor was I going to die of a heart attack, despite what my body was trying to tell me.
That was a long time ago now. Despite years of therapy, medication and trying all the things that have been recommended to me (and there’s plenty), there are periods when the anxiety still sneaks up on me. It attacks, stripping me back to that young lady sitting on a train platform just trying to breathe.
However, I understand it better now. And for me, it’s one of those things where knowledge can be power.
I have a better handle on what's likely to tip me into a panic attack. I’m more aware of how anxiety can present in me as negativity, self-doubt and paranoia. I know that my body is often the first place to feel it, with nausea and a shortness of breath the initial signs.
I know a bunch of tricks to help keep it at bay. I know that going for a walk, listening to music and calling a friend can often circumvent it taking hold. I know that if I catch it early, I’m much better placed to bring it under control.
I know that lots of sleep is important, as the more tired I am, the less in control I feel. So is good food, and when I say good food, I mean a balanced diet – despite my cravings for all things junk when I’m having a bad day.
I also recognise it in my daughter, who at 11 struggles with anxiety too. She complains of an elephant sitting on her chest, how she can’t stop thinking about the same thing over and over again, and how sometimes it hurts to breathe. We meditate together; mindfulness is another tool that I’ve tucked away in my tool kit.
I also know we’re not alone. The stats say that one in three women will suffer from anxiety at some point, and as many as one in five will experience depression.
I know that more needs to be done to raise awareness and understanding, to reduce the stigma that mental illness can still hold.
I know that talking about it is hard, and I worry that people will think less of me for speaking up and sharing my story.
But then when I look at my little girl, I know that it’s my job to make it easier for her. I don’t want her to feel like she’s on her own, that it’s just something that people don’t talk about.
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