According to mental heath charity Mind; 1 in 4 people in the U.K. will experience a mental health problem every year. 1 in 6 people will report a common mental health problem (such as depression or anxiety) every week. Just like the common cold, there is no cure. Instead we are offered methods to alleviate, manage, and prevent symptoms. While lemon tea, washing your hands, and cough syrup won’t help your anxiety, it’s the same principle. So here is how you do it.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a very common mental health problem that can be triggered by particular situations or seemingly everything. It can present itself in both physical and psychological symptoms and is often a very natural response to stressful situations such as speaking publicly or sitting an exam. It becomes a problem when it is more difficult to manage and lasts longer, and might then result in a diagnosis of a particular anxiety disorder.
The physical side
I have lost count of the amount of times I will hear the phrase ‘I thought I was having a heart attack but the doctor said my heart was fine, she said I was having a panic attack’ when I am conducting an assessment. So what is a panic attack, and why do they happen?
A panic attack is our body’s physiological response to a perceived threat. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When our brain feels endangered, it sends messages all over our body to prepare to either engage with the threat or run away from it. As a result, our body will exhibit physical symptoms we are not used to in our daily lives. They can range from a dry mouth and sweaty palms, to breathlessness and an increased heart rate. Way back in the day, our body would respond in this way when it saw a very real threat such as a wild animal. Nowadays, our threats are much more subtle and some individuals are biologically more sensitive. Thus, we might have a panic attack in the calmest environment. It is often the culmination of stress and worry at the back of our mind over a series of events. The main takeaway is that it is entirely natural. It is not harmful and there are ways to manage them, and learn triggers in order to prevent them.
The psychological side
Anxiety can be specific or general, and it is characterised by worry and fear. It is very common to worry about things and to experience stress in your day to day life. It can become a problem when it is constant and overwhelming. It can seem like you have no control over your worries, that they seem exaggerated or unnecessary. It is also common for you to be able to rationalise your worries afterwards, but in the moment it is difficult to see past them. You may fear something awful is going to happen to yourself or those around you, and this may cause you to avoid situations relating to these fears.
Anxiety is often self-perpetuating, worrying about worry is very common and can lead to our anxieties becoming entrenched. The idea is to get a handle on our thoughts and worries. It is like giving our mind space to breathe. This can be done in many ways and entirely on an individual basis. Please remember, what works for you may not work for somebody else and vice versa.
So how do I fix it?
Anxiety is a natural response and every human will experience it at some point in their lives. Therefore, it is not something we can ‘fix’ or ‘cure’. But there are ways in which you can manage it and make life easier for yourself. The one thing you must understand is that it is down to you. No matter who you seek help from or how intense your treatment or therapy is, it will require a lot of work from yourself. It isn’t easy, but it may have long term benefits if you stick with it.
The obvious answer is to seek medical advice. As a practitioner I am trained in low intensity Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which looks at how our thoughts (cognitions) impact our feelings, and how this would affect how we behave. An example would be:
I went to the supermarket and started to think that people were staring at me and talking about me. This made me worry there was something wrong with me, I felt anxious and nervous. I left the supermarket without buying anything. Now I do my shopping online so as not to see people out in public.
CBT would see how this makes a vicious cycle and would inhibit our ability to do things we used to enjoy, or things we need to do. The idea would be to break this cycle by analysing thought processes and the behaviours we respond with. Anxiety is successfully treated with CBT at various levels and can enable you to implement strategies to manage your symptoms. If you reside in England and are struggling with anxiety, I strongly recommend accessing your IAPT service for an assessment. I will finish this post with a list of resources for you to peruse to hopefully aid you in understanding and managing your anxiety. Before you get clicking, please take note of this disclaimer.
Disclaimer: The contents of this site are for educational purposes only. Nothing found on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Nor is it a substitute for therapy.
Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you have concerns about your wellbeing.
Mind offers a fantastic PDF that explains anxiety and offers a brief insight into techniques to manage anxiety. It is also a charity for mental health in general, so even if anxiety isn’t your main difficulty it is a great resource.
Get Self Help is website full of materials that can be used to understand anxiety and take note of your thoughts and physical symptoms.
The CCI is an Australian website with workbooks that are directed at various mood difficulties as well as anxiety and worry.
Moodjuice is another self help workbook
Apps that are useful for techniques such as Mindfulness can be found all over the place. Headspace and MoodGym are a good place to start.
I hope you found this article helpful and insightful! Please remember that the list of symptoms and advice is not exhaustive nor is it generalised to every single person out there. This is just a starting point for those who want to know more about anxiety and how to handle it. Let me know how you found it in the comments!