Mental HealthSocial Issues

What My First Panic Attack Taught Me…

Final year of university has been extremely stressful. Last month, I was filing graduate school applications, writing my thesis and had a full course load. Extracurricular activities and my research project were also some of the many things keeping my mind occupied. In fact, 2017 was off to a rough start due to the overwhelming number of deadlines I had to meet during my last semester in university. Before school began, I had a complete schedule of how I would manage my courses, do research and stay involved in extracurricular activities as well. Each and every day was well-planned, and due to my great work ethic, I was pretty confident about successfully following the plan. The whole month of January passed, and I hadn’t had a single day to myself. Even my weekends were spent attending conferences or volunteering at different events.

One day, while I was sitting in my anatomy class and making my to-do list for the week, my heart started pounding against my chest. I felt the sudden urge to get out of my seat and curl up on the ground. The next minute, I wanted to cry and scream. I was upset at myself. I was paralyzed by anxiety, and was afraid to do anything about it due to the fear of failure. I had never felt like this before in all four years of university. I was curious as well as worried about what had happened to me in that moment. After speaking to my colleagues, I realized that I had my first panic attack that day.

What My First Panic Attack Taught Me...

That day taught me how I had pushed myself to the limits of my brain and body. I used to be exemplary at working under stress, and in every challenging situation, I had a plan to relieve stress. This particular experience was eye-opening for me. I had overworked myself so much that my body and mind were fatigued from stress. As a mental health advocate myself, I thought engaging in de-stress activities sometimes would help me stretch the boundaries of my mind and body. However, no matter how many times one de-stresses, no therapy is comparable to rest – both mental and physical. While I was heavily involved with school and extracurricular activities, I took my good health for granted and ended up destabilizing my mental balance. Following my first panic attack, I had severe mood swings accompanied by the guilt of pushing myself to my breaking point.

Speaking to my family and supervisor about my condition helped me rethink my priorities and decide what my values were. My supervisor reminded me that no matter how many times I fail, my friends and family will always love me and cherish my presence in their lives. She assured me that it is okay to fall apart sometimes and pause for a while. The conversation with my supervisor restored my self-confidence and taught me about the importance of prioritizing my mental health under all circumstances.

Sometimes, I forget that when I go through bad times, I don’t go through them on my own. My family, friends and colleagues also suffer with me. Sometimes, I think if I am neglecting my health and relationships as I overwork myself. It’s hard to set boundaries and decide how much is too much. To be honest, no one knows. I had to have my first panic attack to realize what my breaking point is, and it taught me that no matter how many things I want to achieve, my health should always be my very first priority. 

Following this experience, I have decided to regularly take a few days off from my commitments, and engage more in stress-relieving activities such as colouring and exercise. It was challenging at first to put all the work aside and not do anything, but I have realized that my mind and body deserve a break at least a few times a month.  It’s hard being a workaholic, no?


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