We all have things or situations that we’re a little scared of. Mine seem to go through phases. At one point the dentist, then flying, then the dentist again,...
Frankie from the Saturdays, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Moss and Adele. What are the first words you think of when you hear their names? Successful, beautiful and talented? How about fear, anxiety, depression and panic?
We often associate mental health issues with those who have terrible lives, live in poverty or have experienced trauma. What we sometimes forget is that mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time, including celebrities such as those above, who have all spoken out about their struggle with mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, about a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem at some point throughout the year and almost one in five people feel anxious all of the time or a lot of the time. Only one in twenty people never feel anxious, which goes someway to showing how common anxiety issues are. Anyone who has suffered with anxiety will know, first hand, just how debilitating it can be.
What is anxiety?
We experience many daily stresses throughout our lives and it is normal to occasionally feel anxious. A job interview, date or important meeting can often set off anxiety and this is the body’s natural response to a high pressure situation, one which can often be useful in helping us to perform at our best level.
It is when anxiety begins to affect everyday life that it can often feel out of control and can seriously affect our quality of life.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the body’s natural responses to something it perceives as a threat. Anxiety causes the body to go on ‘high alert’, in order to help us effectively respond to what is deemed as an emergency situation.
This is useful in a situation of threat – for example if you feel as though you are being followed home on a dark night and may need to run. However, when this occurs when you are at work, at home or even just lying in bed, it can feel scary and strange. Because you aren’t using up the additional adrenaline the after effects of the initial ‘rush’ can also leave you feeling agitated, irritated or fatigued.
When you experience frequent anxiety this can take its toll on your wellbeing, relationships and how you feel about yourself. It is often overwhelming and can feel like it will be impossible to get well again. Seeking professional help from a Doctor or Counsellor is really important for anyone who is suffering with anxiety but many sufferers also find certain methods of self-help useful. The tips below can be used at home alongside any professional treatment and can hopefully help you to improve how you feel and cope with anxiety.
When you’re feeling anxious, learning to relax can seem impossible but there are many apps and books out there that can teach you the main principles in a way that’s manageable. Apps such as Headspace, teach you how to meditate in just 10 minutes per day and the more you practise, the easier it will become to relax when you start to feel anxious. The important thing with meditation is to remember to practise it regularly and at times when you don’t feel anxious, so that your brain can learn how to do it and then eventually be able to apply this to situations in which you do feel anxious.
2. Reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine
While alcohol can give a temporary ‘numbing’ effect which is often a welcome relief when you are feeling anxious, the long term effects will be more damaging. When the effects of the alcohol wear off, the anxiety can often be worse and your resistance will be lowered so you will feel like you are less able to cope than normal. The same goes for too much caffeine, which can often increase feelings of agitation or stress, by increasing the heart rate. Try to cut down on the amount of coffee you drink and switch to decaf or green tea where possible.
3. Eat well
Some psychologists call the stomach ‘the second brain’ because of how closely our moods and wellbeing are linked to what we eat. Try to eat a balanced diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables to ensure you are getting the right vitamins and minerals you need. Carbohydrates are also often thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can have a calming effect. It’s best to go for complex-carbohydrates such as rice, wholegrain cereals and breads, quinoa and oatmeal rather than sugary food and drinks which will make you feel sluggish and bloated. Try to also drink plenty of water as dehydration can also have an effect on your mood and body.
The thought of doing exercise when you are anxious can be overwhelming, particularly when you are feeling fatigued or low on confidence. Rather than trying to force yourself to go to a high impact class or busy gym, just concentrate on small things you can do that will still boost your heart rate. Walking for ten minutes around the block, to the park or a friends house can still trigger brain chemicals which improve mood and stress levels. If even this seems like a challenge start small – walk to your corner shop and then come back or even to the end of the road. The more you do this the more you will build up your confidence and self-esteem at having achieved something you want to do and it will get easier to set bigger targets.
5. Segment worry
If one of the triggers for your anxiety is excessive worrying, one trick that psychologists recommend is to try and segment this worry to a timeframe or certain part of your day. Often, the more we worry about something the worse we feel, even though this worrying does nothing to change the situation. If you feel anxious or worried about an upcoming event or situation try to give yourself set ‘worrying times’, for example, when you are in the shower or when you are walking the dog. Once this ‘worry time’ is over, for example when you get out the shower or when you get back to your house, tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to worry again until the next allocated timeslot. If you begin to start worrying again before this time, be firm and tell yourself that you’ll worry about it in the slot and then do something to distract yourself such as getting up to make a drink, reading a book or even just walking around the office.
Next week, we will share five more self-help tips with you that you can use in order to cope more effectively with anxiety. If you’d like to receive the tips to your inbox sign up to our newsletter
In the meantime, there are some helplines listed on the NHS website below which you can also call for help and guidance:
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Beth is a Writer and Digital Marketer who founded The Full Agenda as a place to talk about the things that kept her and her friends up at night. Currently working as a Marketing consultant to various SMEs she is a big fan of the startup market and loves technology, apps and anything social media related. When not obsessively checking Google Analytics, she can be found reading, writing or relaxing with a glass of Prosecco.
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