by Zara Mohammed, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 6th January, 2020
We all experience natural feelings of anxiety from time to time. Those familiar butterflies you get in your belly before an important meeting or interview for example, or the niggling feeling of worry when you are behind on your rent payments.
Unfortunately anxiety can cause some people a lot of stress and wreak havoc in their lives. In this article we will explore what it means to be anxious, and find out how to deal with anxiety.
In this article we will discuss:
Anxiety is a normal emotion that comes in many forms, and can produce different symptoms in different people.
A general definition of anxiety describes it as feeling worried, nervous, or uneasy, usually about something with an uncertain outcome. This feeling of concern and apprehension can be very uncomfortable to deal with, especially when experienced on a regular basis. But it is usually resolved easily and then goes away.
Most people throughout their lives experience this normal level of anxiety. These feelings are in context with events, relationships with people, and stress. It is considered healthy to feel anxious in certain situations, as it is your natural fight or flight response kicking into gear. Anxiety helps us to recognise when something is important or needs dealing with.
Other people develop Anxiety Disorders. These are often diagnosed when the person seeks help by a professional in the field of Psychology like a doctor, psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist.
Sufferers of anxiety disorders often need more support in helping them to deal with their anxiety, as it has developed into a set of symptoms that are way out of context with the environmental or social factors triggering them.
An Anxiety Disorder impacts the person in a way that can severely affect their normal everyday functioning. This can make it difficult for them to function properly at work, have friends, or develop healthy relationships.
Professional help can include medication to ease symptoms that are severe, especially when the anxiety disorder in diagnosed along with another condition, but mainly treatment involves some sort of therapy.
Below is a list of some of the most well known Anxiety Disorders with a brief description.
If you feel that you are experiencing anything similar to what you read here, and have had your symptoms for a prolonged period of time you should book an appointment to talk about it with your GP.
There are many ways that you can receive support to help you deal with your experiences. For example, doctors may be able to sign you off work to give you some time during a stressful period of your life to recover.
It is important not to rely on self-diagnosis and always get a professional opinion on any health-related issue.
A sufferer of generalised anxiety disorder feels like they are in a constant state of high anxiety. Characteristic symptoms of the condition include racing thoughts, loss of concentration, and an inability to focus.
This heightened state of worry must last for a prolonged period of time (over 6 months) in order to qualify for the disorder, and the worry must also be out of proportion to the risk.
Social anxiety disorder is a kind of social phobia. The Stress of social scenarios is too much for sufferers of this condition to handle.
Normal social experiences like making small talk with a stranger or maintaining eye contact can make the sufferer feel so horribly uncomfortable that they will go out of their way to avoid being in social situations completely. This can have a severe negative impact on their life the worse it gets.
Panic disorder is characterised by unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear.
During these episodes the sufferer may experience sweating, shaking, palpitations, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling of impending doom like something terrible is about to happen. It is a very scary experience and sufferers may feel like they are about to die.
An OCD sufferer has reoccurring unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (often described as obsessions). These make the person feel driven to do something repetitively (or compulsively).
For example, a person may think that they have not locked their front door after leaving and will have to compulsively go back several times to check it because the obsessive thought won't leave their head, even after they have confirmed that they did in fact lock their front door.
Sometimes the thoughts and actions are so unrelated that there is no logic even, for example, a person with OCD may feel that if they don't complete a set of mundane tasks in a certain way that something terrible will happen.
We all feel fearful about certain things, maybe you are scared of spiders or feel uncomfortable in small spaces like an elevator.
A person who develops a phobia however, experiences a fear that is both excessive and persistent. It defies all sense of logic, and often leaves the person feeling paralysed or in a complete and utter emotional mess. Phobias can be a fear of an object or a situation. They have a rapid onset and are present for more than 6 months.
Someone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Such events may include a terrorist act, a natural disaster, a serious accident, rape or another violent personal assault, war or combat.
Symptoms can include intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings relating to the experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. Flashbacks and nightmares force the person to relive the event over and over again. The person may also feel a sense of detachment to the world and the people around them.
Sometimes people who tend to be more isolated, shy, quiet, or insecure and who lack confidence or have a low self esteem, may be more prone to feeling anxious in everyday situations.
This is because they are more likely to develop negative thought patterns, which can in turn develop into feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
Some of these situations may include:
When faced with the familiar feeling of anxiety creeping up on them, people may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to relieve themselves of the discomfort.
Some of these coping mechanisms may include:
These coping mechanisms are not healthy or productive though, so let's look at some tips and strategies to help you help yourself, and help you learn how to cope with your anxiety in a more positive and functional way.
Mastering breathing techniques can have such a massive impact on how you feel. It can help you to calm down and be in control of your own thoughts and feelings.
Most of the problem with anxiety is that you feel out of control. When you learn deep breathing exercises you can slow down your heart rate, reduce sweating and panic, and most importantly, clear your head so that you can think properly again.
Next time you feel anxious try to slow down and focus on your breathing. Breathe in slowly and deeply for four seconds, and then gently exhale, letting all of your thoughts, fears and physical tension leave your body and mind with your breath.
Anxiety spirals out of control because your thoughts do. When you question your thought patterns you stop that rapid spiralling in it's tracks, and force yourself to think logically about the situation instead. Logic always wins, because you can't fight it. Logic just makes sense.
When negative thoughts take root in your mind they distort the reality of a situation. Questioning those thoughts brings you back down to earth and helps to put everything into perspective. Next time you feel your negative thoughts taking over, challenge your fears and ask if they are true. In doing so, you take back the control, and you will feel empowered and focused.
Use essential oils, incense and candles to soothe your senses and create a calm environment so that you can focus on become more grounded and better able to handle your thoughts and feelings.
Choosing soothing scents like lavender, chamomile and sandalwood. Did you know that aromatherapy is thought to interact with certain receptors in your brain?
This could potentially lead to soothing your symptoms of anxiety. Next time you feel stressed choose your favourite candle, light it, and sit down for a little while. Watch the flame flicker, inhale the aromas, and feel your body and mind relax as you enjoy just being in the moment, not thinking about the past or the future.
Have you ever been in the middle of a heated debate and had to walk away from the conflict in order to clear your head? Exercise can have the same effect on your anxiety. You don't have to get the gym gear out and head for the high intensity machines though.
A simple walk or some yoga poses in your living room will do the trick. The endorphins or fresh air will help to clear your mind and make you feel good again.
Next time you feel worried about something take yourself out for a short stroll. If you have a dog, walking with them can be a great stress reliever, but walking by yourself is just as therapeutic. Take time to observe your surroundings and find something beautiful to appreciate, like the sound of a bird singing, or children playing on swings.
Some people like to keep a journal of their personal thoughts because the act of writing down everything that is getting to you (or brain-dumping) helps to remove all that noise from circling inside of your head.
It gifts you with a clear mind to tackle any challenges head on with logic, leaving your emotions between the pages. Next time you feel yourself getting worked up into a worry, take out your favourite journal and pen, or just a notebook, and scribble as much as your want.
It doesn't even have to make sense. Just get it all out onto the paper. When you close the book you will feel a sense of relief. It's like ranting to a friend that totally agrees with everything you say, no judgement.
When anxiety has become part of your life, and you find that it simply isn't going anywhere, it can help to find tools to help you cope in those moments of strong anxiety.
Doctors and therapists can help you to identify your triggers so that you can recognise and be prepared for when your anxiety rears its ugly head unexpectedly. Common triggers include stress at work or home, driving or traveling, drug or medication withdrawal, illness, alcohol or caffeine.
Therapy that may be available to you include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in which a therapist can help you to develop ways to change or adapt your behaviour and negative thought patterns before they take over.
Other things like talking therapies, meditation and mindfulness, or looking at your lifestyle and diet can also help you to get a handle on your anxiety so that you are prepared to cope with it better as part of your life.