Another day, another new guest post on the blog. Today I welcome Ben Stevens, aka @benirinha, who has kindly agreed to share his experiences of coping with his General Anxiety Disorder. When I recently spoke to Ben on Twitter about anxiety and panic attacks, it became clear that he is incredibly passionate about spreading the word that these mental health issues can be overcome.

Ben has graciously agreed to write down his thoughts and suggestions so that others fighting the feelings of anxiety and who battle against overwhelming panic on a daily basis know that they are not alone. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the one thing that has really helped Ben overcome his moments of anxiousness was in a pastime that many of us find the most stressful part of our week; following a football team.

Panic attacks and anxiety is not a topic at the head of mainstream media nowadays, with more emphasis on stress, particularly work-related, off the back of the recent economic struggles and decline in the United Kingdom.

Although many have tried to highlight the importance of recognising stress as an increasing problem in the UK, I feel that not much has been done to tackle or prevent stress as an issue, especially in the work place. Of those whom I know have stress or stress-related illnesses within my group of friends and also my family, none of these people say that they have received adequate support from their employer, and that not enough is done to learn from previous cases, or to put in place steps to prevent it from happening again.

I am someone who has General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which can really limit day-to-day tasks, including during employment. It is a type of stress-related illness which can be brought about by a number of factors, including money, work-place issues, or even existing health issues. I will come back to the latter in more detail later on.

For someone who had spent most, if not all, of their childhood relatively free of any problems, I did not expect to be given the diagnosis of GAD in my twenties. I do not consider my life to be any more stressful than Joe Bloggs, or any other man off the street, as I feel that everybody leads and lives a different life. Of course, there have been some very bad moments along the way, including issues with two of my jobs, which no amount of calming down within the mind can handle at times. As aforementioned, any type of stress is very self-limiting and I have found it has stopped me from doing the tasks I wished to complete.

My first brush with a panic attack came after a night out in London. I was working in the City at the time. My then Managing Director had decided that our team (a very small team) would go out to a local bar in the Aldgate area. As someone who briefly tried university, you can imagine that I used to drink like a fish (as everyone does). I don’t remember much of the night itself. What I do remember is the horrible tin-like train journey back to my hometown from London Bridge. My first experience of a panic attack was the worst feeling I have ever experienced.

At the time I had no knowledge of what the symptoms of a panic attack were. It was truly frightening. I was having serious palpitations, which can feel very worrying to those who are affected. However, after a few minutes, the sensations passed and I managed to make my way home. The next day I managed to get into work, but I was having the same sensations, but with less severity. That weekend I spent in bed. There was a change in how I was feeling by the end of the weekend, and I was able to get back to work on the Monday.

It wasn’t until a few days later that this became a serious matter, and one that limited me to staying in bed for a few days. It was not until the end of one day at work, just before meeting a friend for a bite to eat in the City, that I began to shake – a sensation akin to shivering. I grabbed a banana from my desk and took it with me to the station but I was having heart pain and aching arms. These feelings were not something which I had come across before, which shocked me. The problem with this, as a sufferer, is that you tend to start diagnosing yourself and finding ways to stop this from happening or reasons as to “why?”.

Unfortunately, as fellow sufferers will know, this often compounds the issue further as this becomes a mental stumbling block, which during these episodes can be very difficult to shift. Aching arms and heart palpitations are common symptoms of panic attacks and these are the ones which affect you the most. I remember being slumped up against the tube doors and struggling for breath. My brain blacked out completely and I had numerous thoughts running through my head.

At Bethnal Green station I just had to get off. The claustrophobia of the carriage was just too much. Once I reached my destination the friend I had gone to meet told me to go home. I was in a mess. I took a week off from work and naturally, for someone who is barely off sick, I was worrying and pacing at the thought of the sheer volume of work stacking up in my absence.

What makes me angry about it all is that there isn’t enough awareness of what anxiety and panic attacks can do to a person. I’ve heard so many incredibly snide comments about stress-related illnesses and that people should just “get back to work”. Until you’ve experienced it, you will never know what it feels like. That’s why people need to be made aware of anxiety.

But enough of what it feels like. There IS a way to combat panic attacks and anxiety. While I feel it has not eradicated the issue completely for me, I certainly feel a lot better. As strange as it sounds, being stressed about something not related to your life is an incredible way of relieving personal stresses and worries.

Ben

In November 2012, I met someone who has changed my life for the better and arguably saved me from serious ill-health and beyond. As an Arsenal fan from a very young age, I was taken to Highbury by my dad but due to other commitments and money demands, I was unable to go as regularly. Since meeting said person I have been to nearly every home and away game in the UK. I have found the “stress” of following a team across the length and breadth of England has really helped me to overcome a lot of mental health issues over the past year and-a-half. It gives me something else to think about, something else to analyse. I end up being so caught up in it, I replay the teams’ goals over and over again in my head and I analyse what tactics the manager should have used.

Therefore my advice for dealing with anxiety; find something you really enjoy doing. Start a new hobby. Try something you’ve never thought of doing before. You’ll see the results for yourself.

I’d like to finish by saying that if you EVER get any of the symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety, or even stress, then make sure you get the help you need straight away. Don’t ignore it. One of my biggest mistakes was the fear of the unknown, the fear of being out on my own, because it really does make you feel like that. The earlier you consult your GP, or talk to someone close about your experiences, the earlier you can help treat what can become something huge.

By Ben Stevens Copyright © 2014

You can follow Ben on Twitter @benirinha

The views expressed are those of the writer(s) and may not reflect the views of JvdLD. This article does not constitute legal or medical advice. In relation to posts by a guest Author(s), these are made by them through their own practical experience or knowledge of the subject in question or as a matter of their own opinions. Opinion posts expressed by the Author(s) or by readers of the blog on the site’s comment section are those of the individuals in question and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of John van der Luit-Drummond or JvdLD. The copyright of the individual Authors who guest post on this blog are theirs alone and John van der Luit-Drummond lays no claim to their intellectual property other than to be allowed through mutual agreement to display their posts/articles on this blog and share via social media such as sites as (although not limited to) Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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