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From Elevator Fears to Conquering Mt. Kinabalu: This Muslim Traveller Overcame Her Anxiety Through Trekking


Hazirah Hakeem •  Nov 24, 2023

Juliana Surani, a 53-year-old executive secretary, was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over 10 years ago. While she once was afraid to even go into elevators alone, she is now able to climb mountains.

Top of Mountain

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Juliana not only explains how she managed to overcome her fears and the tactics she learnt throughout her various experiences, but also of the healing power of travel. For her, travel is more than an outlet to relax; it's a healing journey that has played an important role in her personal growth.

The Challenge of Anxiety

Juliana shared her decade-long struggle with anxiety disorder. Triggered by the demands of work and family, her anxiety manifested in physical symptoms, including trembling hands and difficulty breathing. At first, she was unsure what it was.

“I was driving and then I felt a tremble in my hands, and suddenly I found that I couldn't breathe. I thought I was having a heart attack. So I headed home, and as I was eating my dinner, the rice was just constantly dropping out of my hands because of how hard I was trembling.”

She ended up heading to the A&E, and she was shocked when they told her that what she had experienced was an anxiety attack. Her stress level had reached its maximum, and her body just broke down.

“So that’s how it started. And because I had that first attack, I was constantly on the lookout for if it would happen again. And because of my worrying, I would end up getting another anxiety attack. I would panic whenever I was in the MRT because I was worried it would suddenly break down, I would panic whenever I was in the lift because I was worried I would get suck inside, it’s just how my anxiety was.”

She knew that she could not continue going on like this constantly, so she decided to see a doctor, who offered her the option of medicine. However, that in turn gave her more worries as she was worried it would have negative effects on her.

To solve this problem, she took to yoga, seeing as how many sites recommended it as something that could help calm your mind and body down.

Yoga class with kids

She went ahead getting a certification to become a yoga teacher, and aimed to help others who have the same symptoms as her, so that they can overcome it together.

yoga class with a teacher and a student

Embracing the Trail

On what motivated her to start embarking on mountain treks, she mentioned it was due to how lost she felt with her anxiety.

“I felt like my anxiety ruined my lifestyle. I lost myself in all the worrying and panicking, and I realised that I can’t go on like this. So I decided to try something new. It definitely was scary starting out, but I had my own sort of mantra that I would constantly repeat in my head.

When I could feel an anxiety attack going to happen I would just tell myself to pause, look at the situation, decide if it’s something that is really dangerous or not, and if it’s not, then I would just inhale and continue on. The most important thing to me was to not overthink - I realised that overthinking kills my happiness, so I tried not to think as much.”

a group of women hiking up a mountain

While Juliana learnt how to deal with her anxiety and start new ventures, there had been moments where she still faced challenges during her treks.

“There was a time where I participated in a marathon at Mount Rinjani, and there was no proper signage to guide the runners to where they had to go. And I was running and running around the mountain, and when I stopped and looked around, there was nothing. I had no idea which direction to go and started panicking out of fear that I would get lost in a mountain. But luckily, I remembered my anxiety tools, and just kept calm and controlled my breathing until another few runners came along, and I followed their path.”

She shared a way to calm yourself down, for anyone who has these issues as well.

“Hold something and feel it and just look at it. If you don't have anything that you can hold, just look at your thumbs. Look at the ridges as if you're looking at them for the first time.”

Reaching The Summit

Reaching the summit of Mount Kinabalu marked a transformative moment for Juliana. To her, it was a symbol of how far she had come, from not getting a panic attack when in an elevator, to being able to climb Mount Kinabalu.

a woman at the summit of a mountain

“Satisfaction. That was the first thing I felt when I reached the top. For me, every time I climb, I always remember the verses in the Quran that says that God created all the mountains. And on my climbs, I am always in awe of the world around me. So I think being able to get enough strength to complete my climb, while looking at the beautiful world God has created for us, just brings a huge sense of happiness into me.”

a woman infront of a waterfall

Advice for Others In Similar Situations:

As someone who has been dealing with her anxiety disorder for the past 10 years, Juliana has some tips and advice to share to others who might be dealing with the same situation

“The most important thing is to regulate your breathing - personally for me, yoga breathing helps a lot. But if it’s gotten to a point where it’s beyond that, when you start overthinking too much, you just have to allow it to come and pass. Understand that sometimes, you don’t have to try so hard to force yourself out of it.

It’s different for everyone, so you have to try things out and see what works best for you guys. It could be though medicine, through using essential oils, or anything else. But just know that you are the sole person in control of your own mind, and that your anxiety does not control you.”

She advises everyone to enjoy the present, and try to slow down and take a break from life at times. “Find a moment to not do anything,” and while it may be tough, it might help you more than you know.

a woman holding the singapore flag

Juliana wanted to share her story to a wider audience in the hopes that she would be able to motivate others who are going through issues as well, and for them to know that they are doing well, and can achieve whatever they want to. She wants to tell everyone to never be afraid of sharing your concerns, and to always reach out to someone if life is getting a bit too much.

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