Anxiety Stories: Sabrina W.
Welcome to ‘Anxiety Stories!’ I (Laura of The Mindful Mom Blographer), started Anxiety Stories after I read Brene’ Brown’s book ‘Daring Greatly’. In the book, Brown talks extensively about shame, which is something I think many people who suffer from anxiety feel – as well as feeling alone.
We all know there is a mental health stigma in today’s society. So how can we remove that stigma? By removing people’s shame, and let them know they’re not alone.
Anxiety is a lot more common than people realize – I know this from all the comments and DMs I get whenever I get vulnerable about my anxiety experiences. Yet still, the stigma!
My hope with Anxiety Stories is that we can normalize anxiety by showing people’s stories from all walks of life. I ask that each person who conducts an interview be willing to be a little bit vulnerable, and each person who reads these interviews holds the interviewee in a loving space, knowing they’ve put themselves out there for a good cause.
*If you are dealing with anxiety or another type of mental illness, please talk with a
There are some great resources on how to get help below:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Online Resources and Finding Help
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US number) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
- Finally, this is a great page from ‘Everyday Help’ with a ton of resources for mental health assistance such as financial help for therapy and medications, support groups, etc.
Last but not least, please note that I nor my interviewees aren’t medical professionals, and the resources and tips are not to replace professional medical advice. We are simply sharing our stories and what we know from working through our anxiety with professionals in our own life. If you are feeling any type of mental health symptoms, please seek medical assistance.
I hope you enjoy the interview.
Today I am interviewing Sabrina W. Here is her Anxiety Story.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you? Where are you from? What types of things do you enjoy doing?
My name is Sabrina, I’m a Human Resource Generalist by day, and a blogger by night (and weekends)! I was born in China and moved to beautiful Vancouver, Canada when I was 10 years old. I’m married to my first love Tony who happens to be born just 12 hours after me. We got married last year after almost 12 years of dating and we dream of having a cat child hopefully this year!
I survived two bouts of Leukemia in my late teens and early 20’s. As a result of the treatment, I now have a rare lung condition called Bronchiolitis Obliterans that restricts my lung function. There is no cure. But I don’t let anything stop me from enjoying life. I like to travel, hike, and play dodgeball with my team “The Punishers” on a hobby league. I’m also a foodie who loves exploring cuisine all around the world. In 2018 I decided to fulfill my long-time dream of writing by starting a blog called “The Budding Optimist“. This is where I share ideas, stories, and tips I learned in my personal journey overcoming one health crisis after another, family upheaval, and my own negative thinking. My goal is to inspire people to live a happy and healthy life, no matter what challenges they face.
What does the anxiety you experience look like (obsessive thoughts, extreme worry, intrusive thoughts, anxiety disorder, etc)?
I grew up in a home where there was a lot of turmoil and domestic violence so I was always kind of an anxious kid because I never knew if I was going to come home and find my mother crying with another bruise. I was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 19 and that’s when anxiety really started to turn dark for me. I had my first panic attack in the hospital while receiving treatment.
For a few years there I was feeling trapped by anxiety; I was so worried about relapsing that for a year after my first remission, I couldn’t stop looking at my arms looking for what I thought would be signs of the Leukemia coming back. Then the Leukemia did come back. I went through a bone marrow transplant and it saved my life.
I still experience anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia from time to time. There are periods where I can’t seem to shake off obsessive thoughts. I worry excessively, mostly about my health, but other things in life as well. My mind has a natural tendency to visit and revisit the worst-case scenario and I feel stressed easily.
Do you see a therapist/psychologist?
I’ve seen a therapist in the past, but not currently. I would go see a therapist when I hit a period when I feel I need help managing my anxiety but right now I feel it’s under control. It was hard the first time going to see a therapist because in the Asian culture, seeing a therapist is still considered taboo. In our culture, you’re supposed to appear that you have everything together–good grades, well-mannered, amazing partner, and fantastic career. Mental health issues are rarely discussed openly. Going to a therapist is so against the grain that when I told my mom I’m seeing a therapist through my company’s employee assistance program, she was shocked and said I was making a big deal out of nothing. I still went to see a therapist and it was the best decision I made for my mental health.
Do you take medication for
I don’t take any conventional medication for anxiety, however, I do take supplements such as magnesium and vitamin D which I’ve heard helps with preventing anxiety and depression.
How long have you been dealing with anxiety? What are some triggers for the anxiety you experience?
I’ve been dealing with anxiety pretty much my whole teenage and adult life up till now. It comes and goes.
The most common triggers for me are:
-uncertain or bad news about my health
-checkups and appointments with my hematologist, lung specialist, and other physicians
-if things get too hectic and I feel I have too much to do and not enough time
-the fear of failure (I often have recurring dreams where I’m about to take a final exam and I haven’t attended classes for the whole semester!)
Have you ever dealt with the dreaded anxiety spiral?
I have bouts of severe anxiety and insomnia periodically. And whenever I get these episodes I can’t help but think about them. The more I want to control the anxiety and sleep better, the more anxious I feel. I would sit there and think about the symptoms, worry about what if they’re more serious than they appear, or what if they cause the Leukemia to come back? That’s always the biggest fear I have—that somehow being stressed and anxious would lead to a relapse.
Do you experience panic attacks?
Totally. I had my first panic attack in 2007 while I was in the hospital receiving treatment for Leukemia. I had this sudden sensation that my throat was closing and I couldn’t breathe. It was an odd sensation as if all the blood had suddenly drained from my body and I felt like I was going to die. The doctors checked my vitals and everything–my blood pressure, oxygen saturation, pulse–were normal. They told me it was probably a panic attack from all the anxiety I was experiencing at the time from the diagnosis.
A few years later I had another panic attack while driving home from work. It happened during a time when I was highly stressed from trying to buy a home in the popular Vancouver market. I left work early that day because I wasn’t feeling well. I remember I felt my heart doing some odd things like skipping a beat every few seconds. It happened throughout that morning and suddenly when I was driving I felt it happen more frequently. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The more I focused on it the more hysterical I became. I felt like I was going to die. I pulled over into the parking out of a mall, called the ambulance, and bawled my eyes out while waiting for the medics to arrive.
The most recent episode I had was last February, a month before my wedding. One day while lying in bed I suddenly felt this strange, disorienting sensation that I can only describe as the sensation of falling in midair. It felt as if all my blood had drained from my body and I was going to pass out. It felt surreal. I cried out for help and my fiance at the time was able to calm me down and help me through it. When it was over I was drenched in cold sweat and I had to run to the bathroom because my stomach was in knots. And it didn’t end there. One panic attack turned into two, then three, and before I could wrap my head around it, I was having panic attacks almost every day leading up to my wedding. It was a month of hell!
Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I was suffocating and it was always that strange sensation that something in me was physically draining away. During the day, my skin felt tingly and numb and my chest felt heavy. I felt restless and couldn’t sit still. There were times when the feeling was so intense I couldn’t even talk. My neck also felt oddly tense and swollen, but there was no visible swelling. I felt at any time the anxiety could boil over into a full-blown panic attack. I spent most of my days researching about anxiety symptoms and fretting over them. I worried these symptoms were related to my lung condition or my history of Leukemia. I went for a checkup and everything appeared to be fine, other than a slightly higher blood pressure than normal. So I knew it was purely due to anxiety. I had to make some changes to my routine like lots of small breaks throughout my work day so that I could just sit and breathe, and I had to quit playing my
Thankfully these symptoms dissipated soon after my wedding and I haven’t had a panic attack since then.
What are some things you do while you’re having a panic attack or are in an anxiety spiral to help pull yourself out of it?
I became good at riding through a panic attack during that month when I was having panic attacks almost every day. I came to realize that in order to stop a panic attack in its tracks, I have to overcome the irrational fear of dying
When you’re having a panic attack, your entire nervous system is on overdrive. The primal part of the brain that’s responsible for the “fight or flight” response takes over and it overreacts because it thinks you’re in danger. The best way to convince that part of your brain that there’s no real danger is to prove to yourself that you’re really okay. So I had to find a way to “show” myself that I’m not actually dying. Whenever I started to feel a panic attack coming on I would squeeze my hands into a fist as hard as I could. I would think to myself: “See? You still have a lot of strength left. If you’re really dying, you couldn’t possibly squeeze your hands that hard.” I would breathe at the same time and repeat this thought in my mind. This process helped me tremendously by bringing a realistic awareness of what’s going on in my body in moments where I feel out of control.
Oftentimes when I’m having a panic attack, my whole body feels numb and this would cause even more anxiety. It’s probably one of the scariest symptoms of anxiety for me. I find the best way to combat this symptom is to concentrate on my breathwork. If I focus on slow and deep breathing, the numbness usually improves within a few minutes.
Related posts: 2-minute self-guided mindfulness meditations
What are some preventative measures that you take to help prevent the anxiety you experience?
I practice Qigong, which is a form of moving meditation and a few structured breathing exercises. I described these methods in detail in my blog post “3 Instant Relaxation Techniques to Help Reduce Stress Now”. I even made a short video of the Qigong exercise that I do on a daily basis you can check it out in this post.
I also do acupressure on myself. Acupressure has helped me tremendously with the physical symptoms of anxiety, especially with the chest tightness that I get when I feel stressed. I described the acupressure points I use and the method I use in that blog post as well.
Having a regular exercise routine is important in managing anxiety. When I was having that month-long period of anxiety last year, I literally jogged on the spot every time I felt the anxiety was getting too much. I felt it helped me work off the extra stress hormone in my body and helped me get more oxygen and blood circulating, which helped the numbness that I was feeling.
I like to do visualization. I do it when I’m practicing my Qigong meditation and also before I fall asleep. I imagine I’m taking positive energy into my body in the form of a warm light when I breathe in and I’m letting go of negativity, stress, and anxiety in the form of a dark light when I breathe out. I’m a firm believer that the mind has powerful healing capabilities and I like to explore ways to tap into these capabilities.
Last but not least, I take magnesium and vitamin D supplements. Deficiencies in magnesium and vitamin D have been linked to anxiety and depression. I’ve been taking magnesium for a while and besides relieving anxiety, it has also helped stave off migraines and tension headaches for me.
Note: please talk to a doctor before starting any type of supplements or vitamins.
What are some of your favorite anxiety resources (websites, books, etc) that other people could reference if they’re struggling as well?
I love the app Insight Timer. It’s got loads of free guided meditations specifically targeted at lowering anxiety. Even if you’re not into meditation, the app has options for music designed to calm you down and induce peaceful sleep. Whenever I can’t sleep, I put on a soundtrack from the app and it helps me go to sleep. My go-to piece of music from the app is called “Floating” and whenever I put that on I’m asleep within minutes.
I also like thewellnesssociety.org, it has a good selection of free resources and blog articles about managing anxiety. They have a great article about the different breathing techniques you can use to calm anxiety; I highly recommend it!
I think the best way to deal with anxiety is to talk to somebody, whether it’s a therapist or someone who has experienced anxiety themselves. I started to open up about my anxiety to friends and coworkers and I realized many people around me had similar experiences with panic attacks. I felt much better because I wasn’t scared about the symptoms I was experiencing anymore, and their stories helped me normalize what I was feeling.
A huge thank you to Sabrina for sharing her story!
Sabrina is a Leukemia survivor living with a rare lung condition as a result of her cancer treatments. Not one to let these health challenges stop her, she continues to travel, hike, play dodgeball, and write in her blog “The Budding Optimist” where she shares tips, stories, and ideas that inspire people to live a healthy and happy life.
Want to share your own anxiety story? Check out the guidelines here!
Want to read more Anxiety Stories? Check out the other interviews here.
I love doing these anxiety stories. I love being able to provide a platform for others to share their stories. I love knowing that with each story, the mental health stigma breaks down that much more. I love knowing that there are others out there (maybe you) who identify with these stories. Who see themselves in these stories. Who for a while, like me, thought that you had to be the only person experiencing the symptoms of anxiety you were dealing with.
If you feel moved by these stories, please consider supporting me on my Patreon page. Doing so allows me to continue doing this type of work and even more – which only helps further the reduction of the mental health stigma. Thank you!