Stress can prey on everyone

IT happened 25 years ago, but I still shudder when I think about it: my first panic attack.

Friday afternoon traffic. A two-and-a-quarter-hour drive ahead of me.

Probably dehydrated. Maybe overtired.

Still thinking about work and stressed from trying to get everything done before leaving for the weekend.

I'll never know which of these factors – or if indeed all of them – contributed.

What I do know is that I gradually whipped myself into a real “state''.

No matter how loud I sang along to the radio, no matter how much I tried to tell myself to calm down and not be so silly, I couldn't prevent feeling “weird” – a kind of fuzzy feeling in my head.

Somewhere about halfway between Kingaroy and Brisbane, my hands started to seize up on the steering wheel and get “pins and needles”, while my right leg felt uncomfortably stiff on the accelerator in my automatic car — even though I had made that trip nearly every weekend for a year.

I tried doing little exercises with my fingers and moving my legs slightly like soldiers do on parade.

I concentrated harder on the road.

But I could feel my throat getting tighter and tighter – almost to the point where I thought I was forcing myself to breathe – and my heart started to race.

I found a safe place to pull over on the two-lane section of D'Aguilar Highway, got out and forced myself to drink from the bottle of water I always kept in the boot in case of radiator troubles.

After a good 15 minutes or so, I had calmed down enough to get back in the car and continue my journey. But it wasn't long before the symptoms returned.

I kept counting down the kilometres until I made it to Caboolture, where I screeched into a hotel car park. I knew I couldn't go any further.

There, I ordered a lemonade and rang for help from my boyfriend on the public phone.

Within half an hour, he arrived with his father to get me and my car home safely.

By then, my anxiety attack was all, but, over.

During the next 15 years or so, I suffered a handful of attacks which lasted up to 20 minutes.

There seemed to be no logical reason for any of them and some even “hit” as I lay down to sleep.

Luckily, each time after that, I was able to recognise the symptoms, drink some water and, either talk myself around to staying calm, or wake my husband up to talk me through it.

Still, I would have thought I was an unlikely person to have an anxiety attack.

Given the fact I live my life to deadlines and, like any busy wife and mother, have to juggle work and home life, I think I handle stress well and I have a level head in most situations.

But I now realise anxiety attacks can happen to anyone – man or woman – and you can't let them rule your life.

You have to recognise the warning signs, be aware of the symptoms, stay safe and look after yourself and your health.

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