The word anxiety has become a real “buzzword” in recent years. As popularised by the Kardashian’s who describe not getting the perfect Met Gala dress as having “major anxiety”, it’s no wonder that we all seem to be a little confused when it comes to what the word means and whether we have legitimate reason to be anxious or not.
Anxiety is a mental disorder which can make everyday tasks seem overwhelming or impossible. The NHS explains that “anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe”. While everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life, and this can be perfectly normal, they add that “some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives”.
If when you feel anxious you have any psychological or physical symptoms of feeling restless or worried, have trouble concentrating or sleeping, or experience dizziness or heart palpitations, you may be suffering from a condition known as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). “GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed.”
When does feeling anxious become a mental health problem?
Mind the mental health charity says that “anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if our feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time, your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation, you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious, your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks, or you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy”.
A panic attack, according to the NHS, “is when your body experiences a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms. It can come on very quickly and for no apparent reason”. This can be a very scary thing to experience and panic attacks can be very frightening and distressing. Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes, however some have been known to last up to an hour. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, while others have them several times a week.
The NHS adds that “although panic attacks are frightening, they're not dangerous. An attack won't cause you any physical harm, and it's unlikely that you'll be admitted to hospital if you have one”. You might be experiencing a panic attack if your symptoms include feeling faint, sweating, chest pain, chills or a feeling of dread or a fear of dying. There are many other symptoms that people experience when having a panic attack, but those are just a few examples.
If you think you could have an anxiety disorder, which is making life more difficult that it should be, the best thing you can do is go to your GP as a starting point, explain your symptoms and get a diagnosis if required. Your GP can then point you in the direction of treatment options and support to help you cope with your anxiety.
The waiting list in the UK for mental health help and referrals is notoriously long (and growing), as resources and funding continues to be squeezed in a difficult economy. If you have been put on a waiting list to receive treatment for your anxiety disorder, you might want to seek out other self-help options while you wait.
Healthline offer some great suggestions on how to manage anxiety on your own:
Identify and learn to manage your triggers
Try to think about the circumstances that make you feel anxious. Maybe this could be drinking caffeine or alcohol, or maybe hanging out with a specific person in your life. When you know what triggers you then you can try to limit your exposure; if you can.
Keep your body and mind healthy
Exercise regularly, eat well, get enough sleep, and hang around with people who help you to feel calm.
Do a daily or routine meditation
Meditation, when done regularly, can help you to train your brain to dismiss anxious thoughts when they appear. If you find sitting still and concentrating difficult, try starting with yoga.