Sharing my experience of anxiety and supporting others
When everyone talks openly about their mental health, we all benefit. Just take Sarah, a Corporate Sales Manager in the Barclaycard team, who uses her own experience of mental health to help colleagues be mindful of their wellbeing. Here’s her story:
Did you know that the symptoms of anxiety and stress are physical as well as mental? When my anxiety attacks first began, I thought I was having a heart attack – every single time. Then, when the doctor told me my heart was healthy, I’d convince myself it must be something else I’d done. Maybe it was a sandwich I’d eaten. Perhaps I’d not had enough sleep, or I’d been on my laptop too long.
I didn’t know the cause, but I’d get a sudden wave of sickness, dizziness, sweaty palms, and tingling in my hands. I suffered with these symptoms for more than a year before reaching a diagnosis – stress and anxiety.
Support in seeking a diagnosis
After receiving my diagnosis, I took a period of sickness leave from work. It was then that I was connected with Barclays’ external wellbeing partner and offered counselling. When I was ready to return to work, I was asked: “What would work best for you? What hours do you want to work and how many days a week?” The business made my return so easy. They put it to me to tell them what I thought would be manageable. This took the pressure off and made me feel comfortable and supported during my return to work.
My team leader was amazing through it all. They were so supportive and would often take me aside to tell me that it was alright if I needed space, to turn on my out-of-office and take the break I needed. They made it OK for me not to be OK and played a huge role in helping me get the right professional support.
Using my experience for good
Alongside the support and guidance I received internally at Barclays, I looked into alternative therapies at home. This is how I came across mindfulness and meditation. Practicing mindfulness impacted my state of mind so positively that I trained to become a Mindfulness Coach. I just wanted to use my experience to help others, but this has taken off in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Within the business, I run 30-minute mindfulness sessions for all Barclays colleagues. These live sessions encourage everyone to step away for half an hour to focus on themselves. I wanted to take this further and make a greater difference within Barclays, so I became a Wellbeing Champion. In this role, I promote Barclays’ fantastic resources to colleagues – including everything from financial advice to wellbeing support – to make sure each colleague knows where to find the support they need. My mission is to make these resources more visible at the right times. For example, in January – which can be a more stressful month after Christmas spending – I helped publicise the financial guidance on offer.
Just be mindful
I’m also using my own experiences alongside my training to teach others about anxiety awareness. In my spare time, I go into primary and secondary schools, corporate events, and I reach a lot of people on Instagram. My sessions are all about noticing the symptoms of anxiety and managing these in yourself and others. I’m even going to run a workshop with four-year-olds soon to help them prepare for starting school in September. They’ve missed out on so many crucial interactions in their final year of pre-school and are feeling nervous about the looming change.
I wanted to give back to the community too, so a few months back I ran a 10-minute mindful break for NHS workers. They’ve made such a difference over this last year, and with the added pressures of the pandemic I wanted to help those who might be suffering and haven’t experienced the symptoms before.
Learning when to say, “Enough”
At the moment, one of my biggest triggers is going to the supermarket: a simple part of everyday life that’s changed as a result of the pandemic. As I’ve learnt to understand and manage my symptoms, I use mindfulness techniques to find a calm state before even getting in the car to leave. When I’m there, I focus on my breathing, on the feeling of the trolley in my hands, and I count the cars coming into the car park while in the queue. And if all this doesn’t work, I go home.
I know my limits and I don’t push myself past them anymore. From the outside, I’m a bubbly, chatty mum-of-three who can walk confidently into a room full of people and present – but I also have anxiety. By sharing my experiences, I’m showing people that you can be strong, independent, successful – and still be affected by mental health conditions. That’s normal, and we need to talk about it more.
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