With statistics from the Mental Health Foundation indicating there are at least 8.2 million cases of anxiety annually in the UK alone, you can never truly know what someone is going through behind closed doors.
However things are changing – and for the better.
It used to be rare for someone to speak publicly about mental health issues. But now, thanks to the likes of Fearne Cotton, Selena Gomez, Ryan Reynolds, and countless others in the spotlight, it has become more acceptable and, more importantly, this increased dialogue has paved the way to better understanding and empathy – a fact which has been made abundantly clear by former waitress Julia Glass’ recent blog post for The Mighty detailing a co-workers reaction to her panic attack.
Recalling an incident where she had suffered a panic attack during a shift at a restaurant in North Carolina, USA, Glass said: “The room spun, and every sound intensified, then muffled together into a loud ringing noise.”
Unable to control her breathing, and on the verge of tears, Glass rushed to hide in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator (the only private place available). On the way, however, she passed a colleague, who noted her agitated demeanour and asked her if she was OK.
“I nodded,” said Glass. “I’m always OK, especially when I’m not.”
Glass spent some time alone, working on steadying her breathing and regaining control of the situation and later returned to work as if nothing had happened.
However, when she finished her shift and went home, she found a text on her phone from her colleague.
“Don’t worry about tonight,” it read. “If you ever need a hug or anything when you’re stressed, just let me know. I got you, baby girl.”
A simple enough message perhaps, but Glass read the text several times and soon found herself overwhelmed by the sentiment it.
“I don’t know if Kendahl [my co-worker] even gave much thought to the text,” said Glass. “She didn’t have to. To me, that text meant everything.
“She helped me feel less weak, less embarrassed, less stupid. She made me feel less alone. She built up my confidence after I kept telling myself my co-workers all thought I was a pathetic attention-seeker…
“She told me if anything ever happened again, she was there for me. I’d always wanted someone to say that to me.”
The post is a firm reminder that anxiety does not work to our timetables: the symptoms are difficult to control, inconvenient in how they affect day-to-day life, and can be utterly all-consuming.
The most upsetting element of all, however, is the way that anxiety can make you feel isolated.
As Glass points out, a simple message of support, kindness and acknowledgement – however small – can go a long way towards reminding anxiety sufferers that they are not alone.
Anxiety symptoms are often hard for sufferers to put into words; there is usually a sense of danger or threat, of not being able to cope with what might happen – a “nameless dread” that provokes such physically real symptoms that it can be debilitating.
The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and can include:
- A sense of dread
- Feeling constantly “on edge”
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Panic attacks
- Heart palpitations
It is now the most common form of mental illness and highly treatable. If you suffer from anxiety, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.
You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.