Mental Health Awareness Week: A focus on anxiety
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the focus this year is on anxiety and encouraging people to have an open conversation about their feelings.
As part of the awareness week, Sophie Strange, one of our senior psychological wellbeing practitioners, has written this blog about anxiety:
Anxiety: A blog by Sophie Strange – senior psychological wellbeing practitioner
“A worrier”, “stressed out”, “unable to rest or switch off”, “irritable and on edge”
The above words are just a selection of phrases we might use to describe someone who is experiencing anxiety. Though anxiety can be a normal response, and we all experience anxiety on different levels during our lives, this can become problematic and impactful if someone experiences prolonged or intense amounts of it.
People’s triggers of anxiety usually involve a theme of a perceived threat, so this can vary from person to person. However, some triggers that are often reported with different anxiety disorders, can be unfamiliar situations, situations that are unpredictable, or outside your influence of control. It can also be reminders of historical negative experiences, situations where you may be embarrassed, feel judged, or feel that something bad might happen.
Though anxiety can affect us in different ways, it generally affects how we feel physically, emotionally, how we think, and how we behave.
When anxious, you might get a racing or skipping heart, your chest might be tight which can feel like it's hard to breath, and you might experience shortness of breath or shallow breathing. You might notice nausea, need to go to the toilet, or have digestive problems. You might feel generally tense, jumpy, on edge, or dizzy.
Similarly, when we are anxious, we might experience symptoms of anxiety which are disproportionate to the situation. These feelings can sometimes come on rapidly, without any warning, and feel very intense for the person, or they can be more underlying and consistently uncomfortable throughout the day and night, which plays a big part in disrupting our sleep.
When anxious, we can be more restless, pace or fidget more, and also find it harder to sit still when trying to relax, as our mind might still be active. You might find it hard to finish any tasks, get distracted easily, or even put things off. We tend to avoid doing things that are stressful or require a lot of emotional or physical energy, so you might even avoid doing something or going places. You might avoid specific places or situations as a way of avoiding the fear or feared outcome. You might notice an increase in your alcohol, eating or smoking as a way of trying to manage how you feel. When feeling anxious, you might also notice an increase in planning, reassurance seeking, or checking behaviours to make you feel more in control of the situation.
When experiencing anxiety, the way we think tends to change. You might notice a change in the types of specific thoughts you experience and a change in the pattern of how you think. Common specific thoughts could be: “I’m losing control of myself”, “I'm going to faint/collapse/have a heart attack or stroke/make a fool of myself”, “I can’t cope”, “what if this happens”, “this is going to go badly”, “I’ve got to get out”, or “I must be better”.
You might notice yourself constantly thinking or worrying about a past, current or future situation and find it really difficult to turn this off. It’s common for our thoughts to race, jumping from best case scenario to worst case scenario.
You might feel overwhelmed, or that your capacity for handling anything else feels much smaller. It could be that you feel tearful or frustrated with yourself, others, or the world in general.
When the demands on our time and resources outweigh our perceived ability to cope, we can get easily overwhelmed. You might feel unable to relax - like you’re on the go all the time. This can be exhausting to live with on a daily basis and cause a person to experience significant fatigue over time.
Though the experience of anxiety isn’t dangerous, it can be very uncomfortable and distressing. It can also go on to have a big impact on all areas of a person’s life, especially what someone feels able or unable to do, how connected they are to others, their ability to learn or work, and their ability to problem solve life stressors efficiently.
Somerset Talking Therapies is free to access for anyone over the age of 18 registered to a GP within Somerset. We offer treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, health anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
We offer different evidence-based interventions using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a therapy based on the principle that how we feel is influenced by what/how we think and how we behave.
Once we have an understanding of what’s maintaining the anxiety for a person, we can work through concepts and materials to learn a variety of techniques that will help elevate the symptoms.
CBT can help the person feel empowered to better manage anxiety. Those who have had treatment for anxiety often report that they feel more in control of their lives and less impacted or restricted by fear.
We understand that seeking help for anxiety can itself feel anxiety provoking, but we are here to listen to you and offer you options in getting the help that you need to make life easier.
If you think Talking Therapies could work for you, I would encourage anyone to speak to your GP or refer yourself via the website.
How to get help
If you’re experiencing anxiety, there are a number of ways to get help, including a self-referral to our Talking Therapies Service. Or get in touch with the Open Mental Health’s Mindline 24-hour support line: 01823 276892 or 0800 1381692 or email email@example.com.