Don’t say I don’t push myself…

A few weeks ago, I had a number of episodes where I almost fainted, and had other worrying symptoms such as chest pains, a racing heartbeat, and breathlessness. It began one morning, on one of my days off, when I decided to go cycling for the first time in months. I had just got to the top of a steep hill, when all of a sudden, I started to feel my (very rapid) heartbeat in my throat, was finding it difficult to breathe, had pain in my chest, had tunnel vision, and felt like I was about to pass out. I quickly removed my rucksack, got off my bike, sat down with my back against a wall, and took off my helmet. Another cyclist went past me while I was sitting there trying to remain conscious, and asked me if I was okay (I lied and said I was fine), which was rather embarrassing. I was worried that there was something wrong with me, but I felt okay again after a few minutes and carried on my way. I was quite worried about it for a few days afterwards but my family members said that I’d probably just pushed myself a bit too hard while cycling up the hill. I had never experienced feeling faint while exercising before though, and I’ve pushed myself a lot harder than that in the past.

Then a few days later, the same thing happened at work. I had just started my break, and was in the staff toilets, when I (accidentally) hit my finger on the wall and once again began to feel very faint all of a sudden. I did hurt my finger but it was not anywhere near painful enough to cause me to feel this faint. I was getting really bad tunnel vision, chest pain, and feeling out of breath again. I stood with my head against the wall, closing my eyes, but I could feel myself becoming more and more faint. I had visons of myself falling and cracking my head open, so I crouched down against the wall and lowered my head. My hearing had completely gone by this point and I barely felt conscious. I somehow managed not to pass out, and got up again after a few minutes, to sit in the locker room and sip some water. I’m glad that no one walked in while I was having my almost-fainting episode, as it would have been really embarrassing. But if I had fainted, I hate to think how long I would’ve lain there before anyone noticed me. This was obviously really disconcerting to me, but (in typical SA-fashion) I didn’t tell any of my colleagues about what had happened because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or bother them.  I felt a little bit better after I’d eaten something on my break, but I continued to feel awful for the rest of the day.

A couple of days after the second almost-fainting episode, I once again felt faint at work. It was a really busy day and I was talking to two of my colleagues when I suddenly started feeling weird again (I had derealisation and once again felt like I was about to pass out). Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as the other two times, and I was able to remain standing. I would’ve found it extremely embarrassing if I’d had to sit down, or if I had passed out, in front of a supermarket full of people. In addition to the fainting episodes, I was having chest pain (mostly while at work but also at random times, like while out walking my dog, or just sitting in the house) and palpitations. I was becoming increasingly worried about it, thinking that it may be something really serious, like a heart condition. I was also worried that it could somehow be related to taking beta blockers before. I was so worried, in fact, that I almost phoned NHS 24 on three separate occasions, but again, I felt like I was just being an idiot, and didn’t want to bother anyone.

I ended up making an emergency appointment at my GP surgery. I had my blood pressure and pulse checked, and the GP also listened to my heart and breathing. All were normal. I even had a blood test done to check that I wasn’t anaemic and that there was nothing wrong with my thyroid. All normal. So what on earth was causing the fainting episodes? The GP said that the reason I almost fainted while out cycling was likely because I’d pushed myself really hard when cycling up the hill and had also had a slightly smaller breakfast than usual that morning. But what about nearly fainting at work? She said that my anxiety was the main factor (combined with the sudden pain before the second almost-fainting episode). Despite suffering from severe social anxiety disorder from early childhood (or even before that), I’d never almost passed out from anxiety before this. Derealisation feels sort of similar sometimes but I’ve never felt myself actually becoming less conscious before. Despite having had an anxiety disorder for so long, and also studying a biology course at university, I still find it bizarre that anxiety can cause someone to almost pass out. I think I would’ve passed out that second time if I hadn’t put my head down.

I read this thread and it sounds very similar to what I experienced. As mentioned by many of the people in that thread, it probably has a lot to do with irregular breathing. As I’m anxious all the time at work, I’m probably hyperventilating without even realising it, and that’s probably also what caused the feelings of breathlessness. I may try and work on some breathing exercises and see if that helps things. Both of the times that I felt like I was going to faint at work were on busy days, when I was feeling trapped/ crowded by other people. During the third episode, I was talking to two male colleagues who are both quite tall, and again, I was feeling slightly crowded because of this. The faint feelings also happened right after I felt that I’d embarrassed myself by stumbling over my words and sounding like an idiot, and while I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by anxiety.  If anyone tries to tell me that I’m not pushing myself enough when it comes to my SA, I swear I’m going to slap them. I’ve been pushing myself so hard when at work that I’ve now almost fainted because of it.

So what about the chest pain I’d been experiencing? Well, the GP pressed on my chest in various places and (from how painful it was for me when she pushed just left of the middle of chest) told me that I had probably pulled the muscles between my ribs, and that’s what has been causing the pain. My chest has been sore for weeks now and I think it’s probably all the twisting and turning I do at work that’s causing the pain. It was such a massive relief to know that there isn’t anything seriously wrong with me. That was the first time that I’d ever had major health anxiety, and it was horrible. I was convinced that there was something seriously wrong with my heart and that I was going to end up having a heart attack and/ or dying. It sounds quite ridiculous now, but I was getting myself into such a state at the time that I was anxious even when I was at home, and that explains the random palpitations that I was getting.

The GP recommended that I drink cold water when I can, to prevent feeling faint. Ideally, I should sip it while I work, but it’s a bit of a pain to have to carry a bottle of water around the shop with me, and I already need to use the toilet frequently when I’m anxious (sorry if that’s tmi). So other than breathing exercises, I’m not sure what else I can do. Thankfully, I haven’t felt faint for a few weeks now.

Has anyone else experienced anything like this? I’m not a hypochondriac but I find it very difficult to believe that anxiety alone is causing this.

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22 Responses to Don’t say I don’t push myself…

  1. Becki says:

    I have recently been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder (although, had anxiety all of my life) and have been signed off work for this exact thing – I kept having real problems breathing, my chest would hurt (like having a rubbed band around my chest) and then would feel very unsteady and like I was going to faint. It’s not too unusual when you have bad anxiety.

    I hope you feel better! Focus on your breathing, use a paper bag, and take some moments at work to just sit quietly to collect your thoughts.

  2. The Blonette says:

    I felt faint in my biology exam, I just keep getting more and more stressed out, until I got super hot, sweaty and flushed and felt like I was going to faint. I handed in my paper and walked straight out-if I’d stayed I would’ve fainted I think. Also really vigorous exercise makes me both light headed and nauseous, which is a weird and not very pleasant sensation!

    • Gemma says:

      Well done for getting through your exam despite how anxious and faint you felt. I think it’s not unusual to feel that way when doing high intensity exercise but I wasn’t aware that anxiety alone could lead to fainting/ almost fainting.

  3. Liberty says:

    I too have suffered with this also, and I suffer with social Anxiety/Generalized Anxiety, and like yourself, I am fit and healthy and my bloods are all good, I am definitely sure it is related to Anxiety, as I have had this happen to me quite a few times before, also I think it may be related to the beta blockers, I too take them as and when and I remember whenever I took them before a job interview I would always feel faint get chest pains, even though I had eaten a healthy breakfast etc. I think the beta blockers interfere with your blood pressure, and cause a little low blood sugar, I would suggest maybe try not taking the beta blockers, if your doctor says that’s ok you may notice a difference. wish you all the best xo

    • Gemma says:

      Hmm…that does sound a bit worrying. Beta blockers definitely make me bradycardic and also make me feel out of breath sometimes. And I’ve heard that they can also cause a decrease in blood pressure. However, I only take beta blockers rarely (only for things like job interviews and oral presentations), and it has been nearly 3 months since I last used them. I’ve never had an almost-fainting episode while taking beta blockers, nor have I ever felt faint while taking them. But I’m unsure if they can cause long-term effects, even when only used occasionally. A GP has already recommended that I stop taking them, due to the side effects that I had been having, but my anxiety is so intense in the situations I mentioned that I don’t know how else I would get through them. The GP did give me some diazepam but I’m afraid to take one, and worried about becoming addicted.

      Thank you.

  4. Susheel says:

    thanks and welcome! 🙂

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