ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — This is the first part of a month-long series called “Anxiety 101.” As part of “Mental Health Awareness Month”, WFXR sports anchor and reporter David DeGuzman is sharing his experience with anxiety and what he’s learned along the way. Join him for a special LIVE discussion about mental health on Mondays at 11 a.m. eastern on WFXR’s Facebook page throughout the month of May.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience with anxiety. The fact that you’re even here means you’re alive, you’re breathing and you’re probably curious about what anxiety is all about.

I’ve been dealing with an anxiety/panic disorder for several years now. But this past year has been even more intense as I’ve gone to therapy and learned a lot of tools that have helped me cope with my mental health issues.

First thing I should note is that I’m not a doctor, nor am I a professional when it comes to the mental health world. Everything I’m writing and sharing is based on my own experiences. With that being said, I’m happy to share my journey in these blog posts as well as during my live discussions online that I’ll be having over the next several weeks.

What is anxiety?

That’s a really good question. The textbook definition from Merriam-Webster is as follows:

“an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill a state of being anxious…

OR

“a mentally distressing concern or interest.

OR

“a strong desire sometimes mixed with doubt, fear, or uneasiness.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

All are correct definitions. The example I usually give is when you’re hiking in the woods and you see a bear, you usually feel anxiety as your body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. That’s a normal feeling of anxiety as you feel your life is being threatened.

The issue is when you get that feeling but there is no clear or present danger. The first time I remember getting an anxiety or panic attack was when I was at the gym and I felt strange and weird. Because I couldn’t figure out what that feeling was, I ended up having medical personnel called by the gym staff. The first responders took my vitals and saw everything was normal so I chalked it up to maybe having too much caffeine or pre-workout mix.

At that point, I didn’t recognize that as a panic attack. Years later, I had another episode during a brunch after a long weekend of drinking and partying. My heart rate was racing which triggered shallow breathing and took my mind into a spiral. Eventually, I sought out medical attention who again found nothing wrong with me. That was the first time I figured out I had a panic attack and should do something about it.

A State of Panic

That panic attack I just described happened in 2019. From that moment, I would probably get about two panic episodes a year. The problem was that I dismissed the reasons for those attacks as something simple, like drinking too much caffeine or not getting enough sleep. While those conditions were likely true, they didn’t address the root of my anxiety.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 when I had what I call “The Big One.” I was going on a road trip with friends and before leaving, gulped down a big glass of cold brew. (Fun fact: cold brew has a lot of caffeine which triggers anxiety). I remember feeling pins and needles throughout my arms and telling my friend to pull over.

I knew something was wrong when I wasn’t able to calm down right away. I tried eating something, drinking water, and meditating. Nothing was working to calm me down. Eventually, I called another friend who had been having similar issues. He guided me through the rest of the panic attack and told me to just walk around and reassured me that I wasn’t having a cardiac episode. Several minutes of deep breathing later (as well as a virtual doctor appointment that concluded I wasn’t having a heart attack), I eventually calmed down.

That set off an endless fear of panic attacks. I was so scared of having that uncomfortable feeling that I was in a constant state of anxiety. It was to the point where I wouldn’t eat because I wasn’t hungry (because I was anxious) and would then get panic attacks because I felt dizzy and hadn’t eaten. It became a dizzying downward spiral.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I had a panic attack at work in a meeting with my bosses and peers. The “pins and needles” feeling was felt throughout my body and it was at that point I realized that I needed professional help. I was letting anxiety win and affect my life and work.

Finding a solution

From that point, I found a therapist and learned tools that helped me deal with anxiety and panic attacks. I also took a deep dive into some of the underlying reasons why I had anxiety.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing those solutions and tools with you. From meditation to journaling, to the role of medication and therapy, there’s a path out of anxiety. It’s different depending on the person but my hope is that my journey can inspire you to find your own solution to dealing with mental health issues.

There are also steps you can take starting now. Exercise and physical activity go a long way toward reducing stress and anxiety. I’ve also cut out caffeine (which was initially hard to do but a must since it always seems to trigger anxiety for me) and I’ve cut down on alcohol consumption as well. Instead, I’m eating better by consuming less processed foods and having a more clean diet which has helped improve my well-being.

Those are all decisions we can make now and hopefully by the end of the month, we can all feel better about ourselves and our mental health. In any case, thanks for being part of the conversation and removing the stigma on this topic.