We all have feelings of anxiety at some point in our life. We can feel anxious about going to the doctors, dentists, learning to drive, giving a musical performance or sitting an exam. These worries and anxieties are perfectly normal, but for some people it’s difficult to control the worry and their feelings start to consume them and get in the way of daily life.
Anxiety becomes a mental health problem if it impacts on our ability to live our life fully, as we want to.
For example, if feelings of anxiety last a long time, if they’re out of proportion to the situation you are faced with, you avoid situations that might make you feel anxious or you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety which could include panic attacks.
Anxiety can be experienced in lots of different ways, mentally and physically and dependent on experiences meeting certain criteria, doctors can diagnose specific anxiety disorders, such as (but not limited to) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
• a churning feeling in your stomach
• feeling light-headed or dizzy
• feeling restless
• headaches, backache or other aches and pains
• faster breathing
• a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
• sweating or hot flushes
• Sleep issues
• nausea (feeling sick)
• changes in sex drive
• Panic attacks
It’s also perfectly possible to experience anxiety problems without an official diagnosis.
Since 2007 I have experienced and lived on-and-off with anxiety; for me it was a general anxiety that then led to social anxiety. One of my worst anxiety attacks came as a surprise to me in 2017 as I’d felt so fit and well in my mind for many years, but something had triggered me in the form of words and judgement from some people I knew.
After several years of being fit, well and happy I hadn’t realised my mental health was starting to spiral downwards again until one Saturday in September 2017. I walked into a pub full of musical friends, many I hadn’t seen for a while and there in front of me were the group of people that I knew had passed some uninvited judgement on the lives of me and my husband.
All it took was seeing them and within seconds I started to shake. I had to put my drink down as it was so obvious and I headed to the bathroom where I started to be sick, feeling all the physical signs of anxiety combined with the negative thoughts and emotions. It was terrifying and had hit me so suddenly.
This spiral continued over the course of the next four months and with the anxiety came another period of depression; sometimes they like to work hand-in-hand.
Anxiety sucks like a big sucky thing. It seems to have its own set of rules and guidelines and whilst it’s very common, we each feel the symptoms in slightly different ways and for different reasons.
I have a handle on it now. Don’t get me wrong, it still tests me, but these days I own reins and drive my own mind and life.
When anxiety hits though, whether it’s an old familiar unliked family member or a new infiltrator wading into your life, you can and must support yourself.
Some of the ways you can do that is by having a conversation with someone you trust. Talking to a friend, family member, colleague, peer group or trained professional is a really good first line of defence and combat for anxiety. It helps us to rationalise our fears and mind and talking helps reduce the feelings of stigma and shame.
You can also try to manage your worries with helpful coping strategies such as meditation and journaling and of course, looking after your physical health and wellbeing will have massive positive effects on your mind and mental health.
Self-help resources such as books, journals and computer and app-based CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) programmes can be a help too.
Yes, of course there are medications but I went from severe anxiety to no anxiety without the aid of drugs. For me, treating the cause of the issues through continually learning and developing myself and keeping myself healthy gave me a better chance of long-term management of my anxiety. Sometimes I think we are too quick to treat the symptoms of an issue through medication rather than treating the cause of the issue through hard personal work and lifestyle changes. My thoughts, not a health professional’s.
Please always seek appropriate professional advice if you are experiencing mental health related issues, but please, also make the effort to help yourself with good lifestyle and health choices.
Are you worried about someone who is feeling anxious or showing signs of anxiety? Well, if so, there are things you can do to help.
It’s always tough to see someone we care about go through something like this, so don’t pressure them. Just be there. Try to understand and encourage some open conversation, setting aside your thoughts and understandings to truly listen to them.
Worried about someone specifically during lockdown in the Global Pandemic that is COVID-19? Drop them a message; check in on them with an open question asking ‘how they are’ or ‘have they seen something’; anything that opens up a conversation.
Point them in the direction of some support, be that an online group, a podcast, a website such as ‘Mind’ (www.mind.org.uk) or Anxiety UK (www.anxietyuk.org.uk). Both have a vast library of resources and advice to help signpost people to the appropriate help they may need.
This booklet produced by the charity Mind is a great starting point so have this on hand to circulate in your friendship circle, workplace, community group or family: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2963/anxiety-2017.pdf
You can also develop your own skills through taking a mental health awareness course such as my new downloadable course launching on 22nd May which you can do in the privacy of your own home: Mode for... mental Health Awareness Course sign-up here
The best thing you can do though is to simply be there; without pressure or judgement, just be the friend they need for when they need it. But make sure you look after yourself if you’re going to support someone else.
Sometimes, people just have difficult days and just need someone to be there; not do anything, just be the listening ear and the shoulder of support.
I’m going to pass over to one of the wisest philosophers in the world, Winnie the Pooh in an extract from the writer A.A. Milne.
"Today was a Difficult Day," said Pooh.
There was a pause.
"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Piglet.
"No," said Pooh after a bit. "No, I don't think I do."
"That's okay," said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.
"What are you doing?" asked Pooh.
"Nothing, really," said Piglet. "Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don't feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.
"But goodness," continued Piglet, "Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you've got someone there for you. And I'll always be here for you, Pooh."
And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs...he thought that his best friend had never been more right."
For more information on mental health awareness and support, sign-up HERE