ALL ABOUT ANXIETY
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is common, affecting a large proportion of the population. It can manifest itself in lots of different conditions: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias and panic attacks. The feelings and symptoms of anxiety all come from a natural biological reaction to a stressful stimulus: the “fight or flight response”. The fight or flight response is an evolutionary adaption to allow us to run or fight in the face of danger.
The fight-or-flight response was evolutionarily designed for when we came into contact with dangerous predators, such as tigers!
It is caused by the release of adrenaline and other chemicals which prepare the body for action: increasing the blood flow to the lungs and muscles by making the heart beat faster and stronger and heightening mental arousal. This results in feelings of panic and doom which are associated with anxiety as well as the physical symptoms of palpitations and a racing pulse. This evolutionary response is great when there is a tiger chasing you, but when your body is reacting this way to crowds, catching the tube and going out with friends it can make you feel confused, exhausted, panicked and irritable.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety in situations where it seems inappropriate, or if you feel stressed and on edge all of the time, you may benefit from trying to control the flight or fight response. Try thinking about why your body is reacting in this way. You may start to panic because you're increased heart rate and breathing gives you the feeling of being out of breath and causes you to panic. By rationalising why you are having this physical response you may be able to calm down and manage your anxiety.
If you're feeling this fight-or-flight sensation in response to normal daily activities, such as taking the tube, this could be a sign of anxiety.
There are other presentations of anxiety which are often overlooked: muscle tension and pain, tiredness and low mood. Tiredness can be a serious problem with anxiety as your body is constantly aroused, and it can be very difficult to sleep with a constant stream of anxious thoughts and feelings. Equally muscle tension and pain in the shoulders, jaw and neck can be a presentation of anxiety. The worried thoughts and feelings of anxiety can also bring your mood down, and lots of people suffer from low mood as well as anxiety.
To think about anxiety some people find it helpful to break it down into thoughts, feelings and physical responses. These are often hard to distinguish from each other and can feed into each other. For example, if you think about a time when you felt anxious, you may get some of the same feelings and physical responses you had at the time.
7 tips for managing anxiety
- Keep a journal
Try to note down the things that trigger your anxiety. That way you can anticipate what may cause you to feel anxious before it happens and come up with ways to manage the situation ahead of time. By knowing how you are likely to respond to certain situations you will feel more comfortable going into it and knowing how to manage your emotional responses.
Exercising regularly is a great way to burn off energy and distract yourself from worries. When we exercise, endorphins are released which make us feel good. Spending just a little bit each day being physically active will help you escape from your worries and the light, happy feeling will stay with you even after you have completed your exercise.
This doesn't always mean sitting and meditating for an hour. Mindfulness can mean focusing on your breathing for 10 minutes a day or spending time on an activity such as colouring or completing a puzzle. It's something that causes you to focus on things that are removed from the everyday stresses of life.
- Avoid alcohol
While alcohol in moderation should be fine, it is known to cause or increase feelings of anxiety. After a night of heavy drinking, you may experience what is becoming commonly known as "hangxiety". This is because when you are hungover your brain tries to restore a normal chemical balance meaning that the alcohol that was making you feel calm and uninhibited starts to make you feel worried and increases anxiety. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder then cutting out alcohol could make a huge difference.
- Make sleep a priority
When we're anxious about something in particular it can keep us up at night. This then causes us to feel tired during the day and increase our feelings of anxiety, creating an unhealthy cycle. Check out our blog on how to get a good night's sleep for ways to manage your sleep schedule and make it a priority.
- Stop stopping your negative thought
If someone tells you to not think about a red bus, you naturally start thinking about a red bus. The same goes for your negative thoughts. Instead of stopping yourself from thinking of the things that cause you anxiety try to let them in and give yourself time to rationalise them. That way the same thought won't torment you, you can reposition the thought into something that isn't as negative and feel better about it in the long run.
- Seek out support
As anxiety is so common, there are lots of different ways in which you can get support. Finding the right treatment is important as everyone is different and will have different requirements for their treatment. The best thing to do is to speak to a GP as your first port of call. That way they can understand more about your anxiety and refer you to the correct people to get the treatment for you.
Supporting friends and family
When it comes to anything regarding mental health, having someone you can talk openly and honestly with can be the most important thing. It can be difficult to open up about mental health but if you are worried a friend or family member might be struggling, they may appreciate having someone who is willing to reach out to them and start that conversation. Signs someone might be struggling with anxiety include:
- They have jittery/restless body language
- They have become very irritable or snappy
- They have started catastrophising situations
- They have become withdrawn or are refusing plans/social events
- They are more tired than usual or seem exhausted
- They are more emotional/teary than usual
When it comes to starting a conversation about mental health it's important to be respectful and none judgemental.
- Find the right place and time: Make sure you're in a comfortable informal place with enough time to talk as much as needed - try to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
- Ask them open questions: This will give them the chance to give more detailed answers - How are you feeling at the moment? How can I help?
- Be reassuring: Make sure they know that you are there for them, and reassure them that they are not alone.
- Listen: Remember that this is an opportunity for them to talk. Don't interrupt them and make sure they know they are being heard.
If you think you are suffering from anxiety, please do not hesitate to book in for a GP consultation at London Doctors Clinic. All of our GP's are experienced in this area of mental health, and are more than happy to see patients struggling with anxiety, affecting their quality of daily living. In a 15-minute GP appointment, the doctor will do a thorough assessment and may be able to refer you on to one of our mental health partners for further treatment if needed. One of the important things to remember is that everyone will experience this fight-or-flight response and feel anxious sometimes, but there is lots of help available to help you learn to control it.