This week is Mental Health Awareness week; a week designed to raise the awareness of mental health and wellbeing. The theme this year is stress, so I decided to change the theme of my blog this week, taking the opportunity to talk honestly about my journey with stress and anxiety.

When I was 17 years old, with the pressure of A-Levels and University applications weighing heavy on me, I ended up in the Out of Hours Surgery one evening because I was experiencing the following symptoms:-

  • Chest tightness
  • Slight breathlessness
  • Numbness and tingling in my hands and arms

No word of a lie, I was absolutely convinced that I was having a heart attack and that I was going to die. When we got to the hospital, I was checked over thoroughly by a doctor and eventually she put me out of my misery. “No, you’re not having a heart attack, this is anxiety. What you’re experiencing is a panic attack”. I was stunned. I had always pictured panic attacks as being very sudden and obvious, like someone heavily panting in and out of a brown paper bag. Mine seemed much more subtle than that, somebody looking at me would never have guessed I was panicking. However, I can’t say I was really that surprised to be told I had anxiety. I had always been a worrier, so it was no shock to me that this had developed into anxiety.

I was then faced with the daunting reality that I needed to learn how to manage it – I certainly did not want a panic attack in the middle of a final A-Level exam, how inconvenient that would be! Over the following months, I was learning how to manage it: cutting down on caffeine, watching what I ate (sort of), trying not to over-indulge with alcohol, exercising, and learning how to challenge my anxious thoughts. I used to get frustrated when my anxiety didn’t immediately disappear after going for a run. I used to get upset when I had a setback or a bad day. Eventually, I learnt to see managing anxiety and stress as a journey: some days are good days, some days are bad days, and it takes time and hard work to learn to manage it and get it under control.

7 years on, and I’m proud to say, “I am in control.” That doesn’t mean I don’t ever experience stress or anxiety from time-to-time, because everybody does. It doesn’t mean to say I don’t get bad days, especially if I have been neglecting my self-care. But it means that I know what triggers it, I know and practice ways of managing it, and I have learnt to spot the signs that things are creeping out of control again. In some ways, I am thankful for my journey with anxiety – it has taught me a lot about myself and it forced me to learn resilience skills at quite a young age, preparing me for dealing with the stresses of adult life.

If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, please consider attending one of our free Mindfulness and Stress Control courses. Anxiety doesn’t have to control you, you can control it.

By Bethan Jones, Valleys Steps course practitioner