By Christie Gerrard, IT Tester | 12 October 2020
I have had panic and anxiety keeping me company for nearly 30 years.
It all started in the cinema, in Swansea, during the screening of Jurassic Park, I felt unwell, wasn’t very well in the popcorn (sorry for the image), felt trapped, and embarrassed. I don’t think it helped that I was hitting puberty and my hormones were all over the place.
From this day on, I have had mental health problems, any time where I perceived I was trapped – or the potential to embarrass myself. The panic would creep in and make me physically sick – in places like on the bus on the way into school, school assemblies, talking in front of people, general social interactions. I even had a panic attack after my first kiss. This has continued into my adulthood and I have had a long time to get used to being a Mentalist (not like the TV show – it’s a tag I gave myself and wear with pride).
I talk about my mental health openly. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain that sometimes gets too much. I have learned to cope with it, personally opting for the non-medicated route – but I do have many friends who have their anxiety disorders medicated and whatever helps you do it. There is nothing to be ashamed of or, to be stigmatised, in taking medicine for any other medical reason – and it should be the same for mental health!
Here are my top tips:
- Know what triggers your anxiety: Being a veteran Mentalist, I have had many years of learning what makes me panic. My advice would be to know what triggers your anxiety and learn from it – but do not let it make you avoid living your life. Buses used to make me panic, but I forced myself every day to get on the college bus from Ammanford to Carmarthen. I was not going to let the anxiety issue control my life, and neither should you.
- Know what the start feels like: For example, I get a sudden but small fight-or-flight adrenaline surge, my brain is telling me ‘oh, something is not right’. For others, it can be a sick feeling starting in the mouth, eyesight ‘drain’ – and many others. Justknow the very first reaction your body shows. This will help as you can start attempting to calm yourself straight away.
- Distraction: I like to use the distraction technique. This means as soon as I feel the tiny trigger (2), I can start trying to control it. I distract myself, get up, have a walk, play a game on the phone, make a cuppa, do breathing exercises, listen to music and sing along. Find what helps you. I use a variety of distractions to get me back to chill. I sometimes have an internal monologue where I have a discussion with my own brain, telling it not to be silly, that everything is ok, that I’m ok, that nothing is wrong, that this emotion will pass. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes a tried and tested coping technique won’t work, but know this: you will be ok, it will pass.
- A panic attack won’t kill you: I am yet to die from a panic attack (and I have had too many to count.) This helps to centre me, helps me realise that the feeling will pass and that all will be ok.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out! You’ll be surprised how many people have some experience with mental health. The more we talk the better, and the less people will be suffering in silence. Don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor, they are there for your health and that includes mental health.
I am happiest at home. So, for me, lockdown has been brilliant for my mental health – but for the majority, it’s isolating. I have made sure that I am filling my days with fun -be it taking up a new hobby (Bargello which I’m loving), completing a 1000 piece jigsaw, playing a new game, reading your favourite book again or watching so much Netflix it asks you are you OK (we’ve all been there right!). Try and check in with friends and family, do video calls, quiz nights via video, anything that helps you feel still connected.
This is a very weird time, so don’t feel pressurised to learn a new language, completely re-do your house or get fit, just try and focus on you – and the positives. For example, make a plan of what you are going to do when this pandemic is over. Me and my mates are going for a meal in Turtle Bay, taking in a show that is on in the New Theatre and then cocktails. I can’t wait.
Just like a panic attack, this pandemic too will pass and things will return to normal.
Wishing you all health, happiness and lots of laughter
About the Author:
Christie Gerrard works as an IT Tester in Hugh James IT department. She joined the team in January this year with over 7 years’ experience as a manual software tester in user acceptance, system integration and regression testing in many different fields including finance, pharmaceuticals and law. She has a passion for history and has a castle bucket list that she can’t wait to restart once this pandemic is over (or when she needs her next eyesight test).