“It feels like you’re going to die": Nadiya Hussain opens up about battle with panic disorder

Nadiya Hussain has opened up about her battle with panic disorder [Photo: Getty]
Nadiya Hussain has opened up about her battle with panic disorder [Photo: Getty]

Nadiya Hussain has opened up about living with panic disorder, which she describes as feeling “like you’re going to die.”

In a new interview with Stylist magazine, the 33-year-old, who won ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in 2015, admits she struggles to cope with her anxiety, particularly when she’s in the midst of a panic attack.

“Your airways close up. Your head spins. You collapse. Imagine not being able to take a breath freely. It’s so scary,” she told the publication.

Despite the sometimes crippling effect of her own anxiety, Nadiya has carved a hugely successful career and is happily married with three children.

But that ‘happy ever after’ external view of her life leads some to be confused by her mental health issues.

“People say, ‘What have you got to be anxious about?’ It’s not about that, it could be tiny things like putting the laundry basket away that’ll wake me up in the night. If I don’t get up and do it immediately, that’ll bubble up and sit there,” she told the publication.

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She also explained how her husband helps her when she’s in the midst of a panic attack.

“He holds my face and says, ‘Breathe with me’. It lasts a couple of minutes, but as soon as you’ve had a panic attack it takes about three days to come back to normal – the last time I had one, I was in bed for two days,” she said.

Nadiya also reveals she turned to her doctor for help as a teenager, but after one session of CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] on the NHS, it was too expensive to pay for herself.

She also tried medication but stopped taking the pills after feeling ‘numb’ to everything. “I took them and I felt nothing,” she said. “When the kids did a nice painting at nursery, I felt nothing. When they fell over, nothing. I thought, ‘This can’t be good.’”

It was only after coming off the medication that Nadiya discovered walking as a means to help ease her anxiety.

“I used to do around 7km every day because I felt so good afterwards. Walking means sleeping well and waking up fresh. It gives you time to iron out your thoughts,” she explains.

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Nadiya isn’t the only celebrity to open up about their panic attack battle. In 2016 Selena Gomez announced she was taking time out from her showbiz career to focus on her health. The singer has been battling panic attacks and anxiety since being diagnosed with Lupus in 2014.

In a recent interview singer Ellie Goulding said cognitive behavioural therapy helped her learn to cope with her “debilitating” panic attacks and Zayn Malik, Adele and YouTube Vlogger Zoella have also spoken out about their anxiety issues.

According to recent research by bcalm 14% of people suffer from a panic attack each month, while 52% of us will have at least one panic attack in our lifetime (that’s more than 46 million panic attacks happening in the UK every year, or 120,000 panic attacks per day).

So what exactly are panic attacks? The NHS defines a panic attack as “a rush of intense anxiety and physical symptoms”, which can include nausea, what feels like an irregular or racing heartbeat, and trembling.

“Panic attacks can be a scary experience, particularly if you’ve never had one before or if you don’t know what’s happening,” explains Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind.

“They often occur when you’re feeling anxious, and are typically an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear. Typically a surge in adrenalin can result in physical symptoms like rapid breathing, chest pains and sweating. People can feel very panicked and unwell, and even as though the world is about to end or they are going to die. No matter how dreadful they seem, they’re usually over in a matter of minutes, and are surprisingly common.”

As Nadiya has discovered exercise can help to combat anxiety and panic attacks. “Things like regular exercise, healthy diet and relaxation and breathing techniques can all help prevent panic attacks,” says Stephen.

“If you do experience a panic attack, try to stay calm and regulate your breathing. Lots of people find it helpful to move to a quiet space or get outside, if possible. If panic attacks are becoming more regular, lasting longer, or generally impacting on your day-to-day life, it’s worth visiting your GP. Speaking about mental health can be a difficult thing to do, but Mind’s ‘Find the Words’ guide has lots of tips and advice to help prepare you for your appointment.”

A recent survey revealed that 53% of panic attack sufferers felt that hearing a well-known personality talking about their condition had helped them, so Nadiya’s decision to speak out about her panic attack battle will hopefully help fellow sufferers feel like they’re not alone.

At the very least it could get the conversation started.

“I don’t feel brave but I understand the importance of talking,” Nadiya told Stylist. “We have to stop giving these random sporadic labels and say, “No, this is a medical condition and it needs to be recognised.” There’s something broken on the inside that needs fixing. We need to talk more.”

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