I’d like to thank Andrea for letting me guest post How to cope with anxiety on her blog Lifeallday last week. And now I’ll share it with you.
Does your mouth go dry and your your stomach do somersaults at the thought of an interview or a difficult conversation? Maybe you feel nauseous, your heart pounds, and you can’t catch your breath? You might recognise these feelings?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel anxious about sitting an exam or a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal but some people find it harder to control their anxieties. Their anxiety is more constant and can often affect all areas of their daily lives.
Anxiety lets us know when we might be in danger, at risk or under threat — like a car hurtling towards you at 60 mph. You get a shock, but you manage to jump out of the way — quickly! However, anxiety disorders occur when our fears and perceptions of danger are greater than they need to be.
This next brief section comes from the NHS website, and is about one specific condition called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.
Symptoms of anxiety
GAD can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. These might also occur in all other anxiety disorders but for brevity, we’ll just talk about GAD. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can include:
- feeling restless or worried
- having lots of negative thoughts, feeling guilty, angry, or shame
- having trouble concentrating or sleeping
- dizziness or heart palpitations
- feeling like you’re having a heart attack – if you suspect it’s a heart attack, seek urgent help
- Loss of humour, confidence
- sweating, sticky palms
- fidgeting or pacing
- feeling faint, dizzy or nauseous
- feeling like you can’t breathe, choking
- irritability or angry
- fingers or toes tingling (this happens when the blood runs from your extremities to your heart and muscles, where it’s needed to prepare for fight or flight
What causes anxiety disorder?
The jury’s out on this one. The exact cause is not fully understood, tho’ it’s likely that a combination of several factors play a role. Research has suggested that these may include:
- over-activity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
- an imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
- hereditary – you’re more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if you have a close blood relative with the condition
- having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying, and so on
- a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis
- having a history of drug or alcohol abuse
However, many people develop anxiety disorders for no apparent reason.
Who is affected by anxiety?
Absolutely anyone. Anxiety doesn’t care who you are, how old, how smart or what colour you are. You might’ve noticed someone constantly drumming their fingers annoyingly or nervously tapping their foot? Maybe you’ve seen that irritating CEO who constantly fidgets during meetings or spits out the nails she’s chewed on for the last half hour? Have a heart next time you see these behaviours — think, they might be feeling really anxious.
Anxiety in me
I’ve experienced mental health problems, including anxiety and I know how terrifying it can feel. The dread when going to watch my sons’ swimming galas because of the steep seating area! I hated all those stairs looking over the pool and had a terrible fear of tumbling down them all. I’d be shaky and my heart would be pounding in my ears. It was the same in the cinema with those damn stairs, and in the dark!
Tube stations soon became a problem too; the further down the escalator went, the more anxious I got. I’d feel like I couldn’t breathe, my mouth was dry, my heart was bursting, and I imagined falling down all the stairs or stumbling blindly onto the train tack.
Vicious circle of stress and anxiety
See, the thing with an anxiety disorder is that once it starts, you get anxious about being anxious. You only have to think about, let’s say, upcoming exams, and your anxiety levels shoot through the roof. And then it becomes a vicious circle of thoughts, feelings, behaviours.
You might think “I’m dreading these exams,” and you begin to feel anxious, afraid, or even angry, so you might choose to go out on a date instead of studying (behaviour). After this, you might think “I’m so stupid, I won’t pass them anyway,” and feel sad, alone, angry and so on.
It becomes a vicious cycle of worry, anxiety, fear, anger at self, inability to cope, avoidance, withdrawal — you get the picture.
Anxiety in men close to home
My two now-adult sons have experienced anxiety and a few panic attacks in the past. They’re both black belts in Karate, they’re club swimmers, they surf, attend the gym, and play football each week. So, although they’re both geeky in a science-type way, they’re not weedy or wussie; nor do they come across as lads who’d have anxiety.
Some family and friends were shocked, like “Wow, I didn’t think they’d have mental health problems.” But younger lads in the family or friends were encouraged by this and sought support themselves. Some went into talking therapy and they’ve all said they’re so glad they did.
So, what I’m really saying here guys is, it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person, anyone can experience anxiety. It doesn’t care where you’re from, what class, faith, creed, race, gender you belong to or what job you do.
As you might already know, anxiety and depression are closely linked so, if you have one, you’re more likely to be experiencing the other. You might also find that some form of agoraphobia, a fear of doing certain things, or going to certain places quite often occurs with anxiety.
How is anxiety disorder treated?
Anxiety disorders can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can ease your symptoms. These include:
- psychological therapies – you can get psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS; you do not need a referral from a GP and you can refer yourself for psychological therapy service in your area
- medicine – such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- lifestyle changes
With treatment, many people are able to control their anxiety levels and lead normal lives. But some treatments may need to be continued for a long time and there may be periods when your symptoms worsen.
Self-help for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
There are also many evidence-based activities you can do yourself to help reduce your anxiety, such as:
- see some Tips to help with your anxiety and panic attacks here
- attending a self-help course in person, or online
- use muscle relaxation techniques. Try it now. Let your shoulders slump down from your ears, wiggle your neck side to side, unclench your jaw and give it a little wiggle. Uncross your legs and unclench your fists, lay your palms and fingers gently on your thighs and remind yourself that your body cannot be relaxed and tense at the same time. You can practice this on the bus, at work, at home, practically anywhere. Just make sure you do it regularly throughout the day and this will help to calm you down when you most need it.
- put a few drops of lavender (known to ease anxiety) on a tissue, exhale long and slow through your mouth then slowly breathe the scent in through your nose.
- try mindfulness or other forms of meditation.
- exercise regularly or do something fun with family, friends or your partner.
- go for a long walk, get in touch with nature.
- try to stop smoking.
- cut down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink.
- try some of the free mental health apps and tools online.
- adjust your lifestyle to make it less busy, hectic, and rushed.
- Learn how to set boundaries and to say ‘NO’.
- take part in activities that give you pleasure, make you feel competent, or give you a chance to take a break from other, more stressful activities.
Over to you
Of course, the above lists are not all-inclusive, and you’ll find loads more information online, in blogs, and so on. What do you think about anxiety, the effects and impact it has on our daily lives? Perhaps you have some tips you could share? I look forward to your thoughts and comments, and of course, I’ll answer any questions.