Panic On, Panic Off: Using Anxiety as a Catapult to Reach My Goals.


An accomplished woman and an inspirational role model are just few of the things that I have been described as.

I am the Director of an arts company that tackles taboo issues and social stigma. I have written and directed sold-out stage plays. I have worked extensively on projects with young refugees, and set up a women’s arts program that empowers those caught up on sex work. I juggle this with a full-time job with challenging teenagers.

In recognition of these efforts, I have received a community project nomination, was awarded a fellowship from the Royal Society of Arts, voted one of the 100 inspirational women in my region, and was alumni of the year from my old university. To top it off, I was Community citizen of the year in my city, and was invited to Buckingham palace to the Queen’s Royal garden party. What an accolade!

Though most see the success on the surface, underneath is a different story. I have battled with panic attacks all of my life.

People are usually dismayed when I tell them that I have anxiety because I am such an outgoing and confident person. It’s not a front, I am an extrovert. People with anxiety don’t have to be a walking nervous wreck. Sometimes I can go for years without anxiety, and then it can come right back at the most random times.

As an empath, I absorb the energy of others, good and bad, and often this can heighten emotions because I tap into wider frequencies around me, and that can be wearying if I am not grounded.

My anxiety stems from my early childhood. Without going into a sob story, I created coping mechanisms to deal with negativity that was constantly thrown at me. As a child, I never felt safe or protected, so I became anxious.

I remember not being able to breathe as a child. I felt as though I was going to die. At first my parents thought I was doing it for attention. The doctor misdiagnosed me with asthma and prescribed me an inhaler. It was only 20 years later I acknowledged that I was actually having a panic attack. I began to draw and paint and create in order to cope. Negativity became free fuel to me.

One of the worst bouts of anxiety was when I was at university during my Master’s degree. Now, for someone who wasn’t even expected to pass high school, let alone go to university, it is a massive milestone. I worried about the workload and the tight deadlines. Having to cope with the dyslexia just tipped my anxiety to the limit. I lost so much weight, and was put on dreadful medication.

This only heightened my anxiety and I ended up having side effect verbal ticks which reinforced my anxiety. These ticks were silly words like jaundice or meow. I stopped taking the medication, and meditated instead. I started to create an inner dialogue and mantras and spoke to myself in front of a mirror.

It’s funny that I don’t feel anxious while addressing large crowds or public speaking, but I can get anxious in the oddest of situations such as walking into town. Sometimes when I feel put on the spot, I may have a panic attack. 99 % of the time I am fine. If I am confronted with fear, I just challenge myself. This helps me overcome anxiety, otherwise I would just drown in it.

Anxiety has become a catapult for reaching my goals. It’s worked to my advantage so far.

Here are some of my coping strategies, though they are not substitutes for medication:

* The classic paper bag. When you start to over-breathe, breathing into a paper bag builds up the carbon dioxide in your body again, so you should immediately start feeling better.

* Hold ice. This is a mega distraction, and the ache enables your mind to deal with the freeze rather than the stress trigger.

* Sing. This slows down the breathing and opens the intercostal muscles that control breathing, relieving the panic anxiety.

* Aconite 10 m homeopathic remedy. Suck two pills on the onset of a panic attack. This is  a miracle. Placebo or not, it works for me.

* Bach Flower Rescue remedy. A few drops prior to a stressful situation like a job interview or restless night help calm erratic thoughts.

My mantra:

I am not my anxiety. This too shall soon pass. Breathe. Trust in the flow of life. Anxiety can’t kill you. You have been through worse. Just breathe.


Reena Kumari is a warrior of Indus Valley heritage. Born from the muddy waters of misogyny and shame, she blossomed into a lotus anyway. A full-time mistake-maker and creator, Reena inspires others to speak out and stand out.


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