Updated: Mar 26, 2022
"Wellbeing" is a blog series where I interview and introduce you to inspiring people doing interesting things that can connect to our mental wellbeing.
Today, meet Olivia.
My name is Olivia, I am 27 years old and I am a Psychology student with the Open University. I started my degree in February 2021 and I am absolutely loving it so far! I also started an Instagram page called Peaks & Valleys in November 2020 when I was in the midst of a mental breakdown which was fuelled severely by Health Anxiety & OCD.
You share a lot about your personal experiences with health anxiety. In your own words, what is health anxiety like for you?
Health Anxiety for me has been some of the hardest times of my life. At one point, I truly believed that I would never recover or be my normal self again. For me, I like to explain it in a way that there is a rational side and an irrational side to your brain and what I have found with Health Anxiety is that the irrational side seems to triumph every time.
Health Anxiety is feeling overcome with intense fear and panic, feeling completely preoccupied with your thoughts. It is becoming hypersensitive and hyper aware of physical symptoms and sensations which are perceived to be the threat, (yet are only present due to the anxiety’s response) which therefore, conjures up more ‘evidence’ that you are in fact, very unwell. It is sitting up all night, afraid of falling asleep because every fibre of your being believes that you need immediate medical attention. It is panic attacks, body checking, reassurance seeking from different resources i.e. family, friends, the doctor or Dr. Google.
It is the manifestation of external factors that can develop such as: food phobias. Anything that can possibly be a risk to your health/wellbeing is thoroughly analysed through the health anxious mind, almost like a risk assessment, however unlike a sophisticated risk assessment, it is intrusive thoughts that come to the irrational conclusions. The bottom line is Health Anxiety tricks and lies to you and it can be so, very convincing.
What motivated you to start sharing your personal stories and experiences online? What kind of feedback do you get from people? How do you think sharing helps others?
I became motivated to share my story online because I wanted good to come out of the bad situation I was in, I almost wanted to claim myself back from the clutches of Health Anxiety and OCD to prove to myself that the hard times were not for nothing and that in fact, I had gained a lot of knowledge through my experiences that I could share with others suffering.
I also felt during my period of being unwell with Health Anxiety, that there wasn’t enough exposure covering the illness. I wanted and still strive to help others by creating content for my Instagram page who are in a similar position to where I was. I have educated myself intensively on Health Anxiety and OCD and I wanted to give logical and scientific explanations for the things that we, as the Health Anxiety sufferers experience.
For me, learning about it all helps me immensely to rationalise and I think understanding is hugely beneficial to people who experience Health Anxiety and OCD. They are extremely complex conditions, both of which carry a heavy stigma too, so these are the reasons behind why I wanted to explore and share everything that I have learned personally through my own experiences and also what I have learned while researching. I have received such amazing feedback from people, some I am in regular contact with, some that just need someone to talk to. I love it! I do regularly explain however, that I am not a doctor and can only provide information of which I have experienced personally.
Finally, I think sharing with others on a public platform can really help and comfort individuals. Health Anxiety and OCD is known for reassurance seeking and I think that by creating a page dedicated to both conditions could hopefully steer people away from googling symptoms and also hopefully help to make them realise that the experiences/posts I upload can relate to them personally which could be a fantastic way of getting their head around the fact that they do have Health Anxiety/OCD and not a physical illness.
What do you wish people knew about wellness and mental wellbeing?
I wish people understood that every person on the planet experiences bad days, good days and apathetic days. None are wrong, shameful, embarrassing, pathetic or stupid. Another thing that I didn’t realise before I became ill (and it sounds silly to say this now) is that in order to have a healthy mind, you must lead a relatively healthy lifestyle.
By healthy, I don’t mean working out 5 days a week, eating a vegan diet or cutting out alcohol (although, I would love to be that dedicated). I mean, practicing self-care and maintaining it and that is actually harder than I ever thought it would be.
Self-care for me is recognising when I am in need of something in particular, for example, if I have been inside all day working, I may feel a little flat so I take myself out for a walk. It is trying to eat and sleep well, drink lots of water and take the time to incorporate some kind of fitness. The one that I struggle with the most is when I am feeling either tired or a bit blah and my mind and my body knows what it needs but I resist because I don’t like feeling lazy but I have now accepted that sometimes, I just need a day to read a book, to watch a series, to let my mind and body rest and that is okay to do.
Mental wellbeing for me is simply listening to what your mind and body is trying to tell you and honouring that by giving yourself what you need.
What are some of your favourite coping strategies or self care tips to support your own mental health?
During a panic attack, my auto-pilot coping strategy is to run and open my front door, stand and breathe the outside air in deeply (Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 3 seconds) and I continue with this until I feel calmer and more grounded.
One of the techniques that I hold in very high regard is guided meditation/hypnotherapy as I found that it helped me to acknowledge that the physical symptoms that were making me panic were in fact, physical symptoms of anxiety as they would fade away the calmer I became throughout the meditation. I thought that this was incredibly important for people to know so I do promote meditation on my page although however, I will say that it isn’t for everybody and you, yourself must discover your own coping techniques that are individualised to you.
Where can we find you and learn more about you?
You can find me at my Instagram page @peaksandvalleyys