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Sheridan Smith gets real about panic attacks and her struggle with anxiety

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Anna Brech
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Anyone suffering from anxiety can take heart from Sheridan Smith’s honest account of her own struggle, and eventual recovery

Part of the problem with anxiety is that it can be very difficult to understand from the outside. And the issue is underscored by the fact that people can (understandably) be reluctant to talk about their own experiences of it. 

Kudos to Sheridan Smith then, who has opened up about her battle with panic attacks in a candid interview with The Guardian this weekend. 

The actor says her problems began when she was starring in the West End musical Legally Blonde in 2011. 

 She was worried about work at the time, she says, and “suddenly – I felt like I was going slightly mad – I just forgot a line. It had gone, I couldn’t find it. This had never happened to me before”.

“At the interval I had a panic attack. Couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hear,” she says. “[…] As I was walking through the stage door the next night, all the same things started happening, the breathing, the hearing – complete panic attack.”

Smith continued to take on work (and win rave reviews) over the next few years, while seeking help from doctors.

Her struggle wasn’t made any easier by the fact that she received different diagnoses: one GP said she was suffering from bipolar depression, another said it was generalised anxiety disorder. 

Sheridan Smith attends the press night for Funny Girl in 2016

Smith’s problems came to a head when she starred in Funny Girl in 2016, a stage role that coincided with her father’s battle with terminal cancer.

Her older brother, Julian, also died from cancer when she was little, and history repeating itself brought back traumatic memories. 

“I didn’t know how to handle all those feelings […] I just lost my mind for a time there,” she says. “I was running away from a lot, straight to the bottom of a bottle. I was trying to get out of my own head.”

Later, she took two months out to be with her dad in his final days: “I’m proud of that, that I was able to get myself back together to be there. Sponge his mouth. Be by his side. He knew.”

Two years on, and Smith is now in a much better place. As a result, she is not self-medicating with alcohol in the same way:

“My anxiety’s down, my sociophobia’s down, all those things that I used to get myself into a state over – now that’s gone, I haven’t got that need any more.”

Smith’s recovery was not quick or easy, but it goes to show that it is possible, no matter how entrenched the struggle seems at the time. 

An important part of getting better is simply  the ability to talk about it, and being honest about your need for help: something that Smith demonstrates brilliantly.

Do you suffer from anxiety or another mental health issue? Seek help and support with the NHS or Mind

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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