April 15th, 2019
Anxiety As a Condition
Anxiety is a normal emotion which we all experience at times, to a lesser or larger degree. Anxiety is a general term for a set of symptoms, physical and psychological, which often is a natural way for our body to respond to threat - real or imagined. Anxiety is a normal and sometimes helpful experience - however, it can also become problematic if we experience it often and generally.
Five facts about anxiety
Anxiety is a very common experience, and will typically affect about 1 in 4 people significantly in their lifetime. Anxiety is more prevalent in developed countries, with the U.S. having one of the highest rates of anxiety in the world. People with anxiety tend to be more aware of the people around them, and may be more sensitive to what they’re experiencing internally, according to research. Anxiety is often treatable with either psychological therapies, medication, or a combination of both. There are many different types of anxiety - general anxiety, social anxiety and health anxiety are just a few examples.
__Five tips to manage anxiety __
There are many things you can do in order to try and manage your experience of anxiety that you can try yourself. Some of the things you can do are listed below: Slow breathing - anxiety can have an impact on the rate of your breathing, commonly making it more shallow and rapid. This has a knock-on effect on, for instance, your heart rate and can exacerbate your anxiety. Through the deliberate process of slow breathing, you can manipulate your breath back to a state of normalcy. One way of doing this is to deliberately breathing in through your nose as you count to three and breathing out through your mouth for the same length of time. You can also concentrate on bringing your breath down from your chest to your abdomen, placing a hand on your belly and feeling how it rises with the inbreathe and deflates with the out breath.
Reframing worrying thoughts.
Anxiety has a tendency to try and make us prepare for worst case scenarios by imagining what those might be. However, this can also lead us to believe that the worst case scenario is the most likely outcome. Take a few moments to consider some alternative outcomes and check your evidence - how likely is each outcome based on facts you have available to you?
Approach. Anxiety often signals to us that certain situations, places or people are to be avoided as we believe approaching them would put us in the way of danger. As such, we avoid them which can give an instant sense of relief. However, it can also reinforce the belief that those situations, places or people are in fact dangerous, leading to further avoidance. By approaching something that makes you anxious, even in a small way, you can start testing this notion. For example, you may have three unread texts on your phone, and the thought of opening all three of them makes you feel overwhelmed and you may worry they will have negative content. You can then set yourself a goal to open one of them, which may still be anxiety-provoking, but not as much as opening all three. Try to approach easier situations first before moving onto more challenging ones.
Shift your focus. Sometimes you may get stuck on one track of worrying, being unable to shift from this, making it all the more vivid and it can reinforce your anxiety. See if you can break this pattern by focusing on something else in your environment. Perhaps you could go outside and make a conscious effort to firstly focus on the sensation of your feet as you walk on the ground, or the sense of air against your skin. Listen out for sounds in your environment and focus your attention on them. Whenever you notice your mind wander back to the old loop, gently but firmly redirect your attention to listening to sounds, or noticing things you can see around you.
Set aside worry time. Find a time every day when you will not be disturbed and you can sit in a comfortable chair or in peace at a desk. Make this the same time every day and set aside a realistic amount of time (15-30 minutes). Make sure you have access to pen and paper and write down your worries, and consider if they are real or imagined; if they are likely or unlikely; if you can do something about them and if so, when; if you can’t, is there something else you can do to shift your focus away from the worry? Whenever you find yourself anxious about something during the day, tell yourself that you will deal with it at worry time.
Symptoms of anxiety Regardless of what type of anxiety one may experience, there are a few symptoms common to anxiety in general:
Feeling nervous, restless and on edge Some people have a feeling that something bad is going to happen. There may also be a sensation of butterflies in the stomach. These can make you feel nauseous and/or make you lose your appetite.
Pounding heart Your heartrate may increase as a result of anxiety.
Changes to your breathing (hyperventilation) Some people start breathing more rapidly when feeling anxious.
More frequent visits to the toilet Anxiety can affect your bowels and bladder, resulting in you having to visit the toilet more often than usual.
Shaking and sweating You can experience trembling hands or trembling all over - it is common to experience shaky legs in addition to increased sweating.
Difficulty concentrating You may struggle to focus on the task at hand, finding yourself repeatedly distracted by worrying thoughts or physical sensations.
Worrying about worrying You may be concerned that if you stop worrying about things in the past, present or future, things will get worse. Or you may worry about the amount you’re worrying and the effect it is having on you and your life.
Seeking reassurance from others and avoidance You may seek support from others around you to help manage your anxiety. Often people share their worries and seek reassurance. Others may avoid people or places that seem to cause anxiety. These strategies may help in the short run but can sometimes maintain and/or exacerbate anxiety in the longer term.
Fatigue Being in a heightened state for periods of time can be tiring and some people report feeling weak. Sleep can also be disrupted as people find themselves finding it hard to fall asleep or waking frequently worrying about things.
Racing thoughts It can feel like your thoughts are going a million miles per hour. These thoughts can sometimes be repetitive and focus on one specific topic, or represent many different areas at once.
Detachment from your environment You can start feeling distant from the environment you find yourself in, or like it’s not real.
These are just some examples of anxiety symptoms - just like with everything else, each of our experiences are unique. However, if you can start recognising a set of symptoms that you usually experience and that you associate with anxiety, it can be the first step towards learning how to cope in a helpful way.
Treatments for anxiety Anxiety is usually treatable, even though many people who experience anxiety may not have access to, or receive, the treatment that they need. There is no ONE cure for anxiety, as everyone is different (and the causes and their experience of anxiety differs) but there are some treatments that have been proven clinically effective for a lot of people worldwide. We outline a couple of them below:
1. Self-help for anxiety There is a wealth of resources, both online and available through (for instance) your GP, which describe how you can manage living with anxiety and which have proven helpful for many. Included in these are speaking to a trusted friend, reframing your worrying thoughts, exercising and breathing exercises. This is not an exhaustive list, of course.
2. Talking therapies Talking therapies have proven effective in the treatment of anxiety. Engaging in psychological therapy gives you a space to understand potential triggers of your anxiety, what helps and what makes it harder to manage, and look at developing helpful ways to cope, amongst other things. There are different therapeutic approaches that have proven effective in the treatment of anxiety, for instance Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (insert link to What Is CBT?).
3. Medication Some prescribed medication can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and reduce its impact on your day-to-day life. You should talk to your GP or psychiatrist about the options available for you, the benefits and the potential side-effects of any medication. Medication can be prescribed as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with, for instance, talking therapies.