Tracey Roxburgh: How I’m tackling heart-racing panic


This week I could tell you about how much I’m enjoying hitting and punching things (it really is an amazing feeling … scary good, actually).

I could tell you about how I’ve tried to keep on the straight and narrow nutrition wise (with mixed success) … or I could tell you a bit more about why I’m Reviving.

After a session on mental health last week with my new exercise buddies, I decided to pick that last one.

Mental health. They’re two pretty big words when you put them together.

As a society I think we’ve come a long way in terms of understanding them – definitely since I was put on anti-depressants at the tender age of 14.

I got really sick and after almost nine months I was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

It’s a bit different for everyone – for me, aside from being chronicly fatigued, I was (eventually) told I was depressed … which wasn’t news to me.

Back then depression wasn’t something you talked about.

My mum was quick to tell me not to tell anyone else about the little pills the doctor gave me – I think she thought it was somehow a reflection on her. And it wasn’t.

But, mental health – as I discovered on Wednesday night – isn’t just about depression.

Sitting in a little room we were told about how an “event”, insignificant or otherwise, triggers thoughts – thoughts we may not even be aware of.

Those thoughts lead to feelings and the feelings lead to a physical reaction. And it happens in the blink of an eye.

It’s all good if the event isn’t one that causes you to stress out.

But, if you’re like me and most things cause you to stress out on some level, it’s not an ideal outcome.

Listening to this being explained made my heart race. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I started to panic. I have that reaction multiple times a day.

I even have it about things that haven’t happened – and may not – but just by thinking “it might” I panic.

I’m panicking right now, because I’m writing about it.

I had it for most of the mental health session because I knew, in order to actually explain it properly, I’d have to write about what I’ve dealt with on a daily basis my entire adult life.

Until today there’s been one other person who I’ve told about it.

I’ve become expert at hiding it and I’ve found ways to calm myself down in a productive manner.

For example, I clean. And I iron.

They’re both pretty mundane activities, so when my heart starts to race and I get a bit overwhelmed it helps to focus on something like wrinkles in fabric, or top to bottom cleaning.

Until Wednesday, I just thought I was a stress cadet and I didn’t realise other people have that same panicky feeling as often as I do.

At the outset of Revive I said one of the reasons I started looking after myself several months ago was because I wanted to sleep.

The reason I couldn’t sleep because I was heading towards burn out. I was exhausted and running on empty and I had been for about three years.

I wasn’t sleeping because I was – quite literally – functioning on adrenaline.

That’s the stuff that makes you anxious and it’s not helpful when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.

The constant anxiety also meant I had no appetite … and because I had no appetite, I had no energy. I knew if I could just find the energy to exercise things would get better, except I couldn’t and so they didn’t.

But, I just kept going until I nearly reached break point.

Still, I count myself as pretty lucky. I knew something had to give and if I wasn’t careful it’d be me, so I decided to make some changes.

It started with drinking water, eating breakfast and physically exerting myself a couple of times a week. In no time at all I started to feel a bit better.

And with every day that goes by that I continue to be nice to myself, I feel better still.

I eat chocolate and chippies. I drink wine. I have couch days and nana naps and weekends when I don’t wish to make contact with any other humans.

All of that’s OK.

I also physically exert myself a few times a week, drink a ridiculous amount of water and try to make sure I make more good food choices than bad ones.

And, every day, I try to take time just to breathe (it may sound silly but it helps). It’s called balance and, for me, it’s sustainable.

When I was listening about mental health and how our body reacts to stress I started stressing because it was like listening to the story of my life.

But then I started to feel better because I realised I’m not the only one who feels like this sometimes (or actually most of the time).

As I also said at the beginning of Revive, there are a multitude of reasons people decide to do these fitness things … and it’s not necessarily about weight loss.

For me, it was about trying to find ways to relax … and it’s working.