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A panicked mind

When Emmi was 18, she believed she had an anxiety disorder. She shares her experience of going from being ‘someone with anxiety’, to being someone who feels extremely calm day-to-day.

I felt anxious most of the time, and was having panic attacks every few days. But on the outside, life was good. I had very little to worry about. So why was I feeling so anxious?

I knew that my thoughts created my feelings (I knew this ‘intellectually’ at least), but I found it hard to identify what thoughts I was having that would lead to a panic attack. They seemed to just come out of nowhere when I least expected them.

One day when I was at home with my parents, I felt the familiar heaviness on my chest. My stomach started to churn and my breathing became shallow. I ran into my mum’s bedroom and said “Mum, I’m having a panic attack!”

She, being a coach, didn’t do the expected ‘mum’ thing, of trying to make me feel better, or distract me. Instead, she sat me down on the bed and asked me: what I was thinking? “Nothing!” I said, “I’m just having a panic attack!” So she asked me again. But I didn’t know what to say – I couldn’t seem to find a single thought in my mind that could have caused such a feeling of anxiety within me. After asking me a few more times, I got  annoyed. Why couldn’t she just realise that it was a random panic attack and not something caused by my thoughts? She asked me again, what was I thinking? Finally, in my frustration, I lashed out and sarcastically cried, “I’M THINKING I’M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK!”

I’m thinkingā€¦ I’m having a panic attack. I’m thinking: ‘I’m having a panic attack’. Of course. I am THINKING I am having a panic attackā€¦ and so I am!

It was so obvious I could have cried (and at that moment, I probably did). It wasn’t some outside situational thing that was making me feel anxious, and it wasn’t a chemical imbalance. I was quite literally creating the panic out of thin air. I believed I had anxiety, so I did.

Now, I am sure that lots of people might read this and say ‘you don’t understand real mental disorders if you think you can just change your thinking and be cured’. And, of course, there are many people who have surpassed the point that I was at and professional help is the road to go down. But the fact is, many people who suffer from negative mental health are not at this stage yet. Many people are where I was – experiencing a negative feeling on a repetitive basis, and labelling themselves or self-diagnosing a disorder.

And, from my experience, it is absolutely possible to go from being ‘someone with anxiety’, to being someone who feels extremely calm day-to-day. Once I had identified the thoughts I was having – thoughts of anxiety and panic – I was able to focus on them less. And, by not giving those thoughts energy, they lose their power over you. When you deprive them of power by not focusing on them, you can let them pass through you without getting attached to them, therefore breaking the cycle of generating panic.

Emmi is not alone. In 2019, 88% of students admitted to struggling with feelings of anxiety. We’ve dedicated a whole section of The Future Leaders Project to happiness and wellbeing, giving teachers the resources to support their students.

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