Feeling anxious and tense is a common reaction to stressful situations such as sitting an exam or going for an interview, but for some people, they experience overwhelming anxiety on a daily basis.
Anxiety can manifest itself in very physical ways, because of the release of hormones such as adrenaline it causes. Often there are no obvious reasons why a person is experiencing prolonged anxiety, but it can be triggered by trauma, life events such as coming out or even using drugs.
There are many different types of anxiety that affect people in different ways, however there are some symptoms which are common amongst anxiety related disorders:
- Heart racing and palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and sickness
- Inability to concentrate or relax
- Feeling on edge
- Panic attacks
Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health problems in the UK with around 5% of the population experiencing it at some point in their lifetime, this figure is significantly higher for people who are LGBT.
Anxiety disorders can take many different forms, and can range from mild to severe, but the good news is that it is treatable and there is plenty of help and support out there.
- Anxiety disorders you may have heard of:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Phobias (e.g. agoraphobia, claustrophobia)
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social phobia (also known as social anxiety)
If you are struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety, it is important that you speak to your GP so that you can get help and support.
Anxiety can be treated in a variety of different ways, so don’t be afraid to ask your GP what your options are. Don’t worry if the first thing you try doesn’t work, it often takes number of factors to help you get back on your feet. Here are some of the treatment choices you may be offered by your GP:
- Psychological therapy (such as cognitive behaviour therapy aka CBT)
- Self help support groups
- Guided self help such as healthy eating, exercise, mindfulness courses
- Anti-depressants or tranquilisers
One of the most important parts in combating anxiety is to find ways in which you can help yourself. These tips can also be used when your anxiety has passed as coping mechanisms to help keep you feeling good.
- Challenge negative thoughts by recognising patterns of unhelpful thinking and replacing them with more positive thoughts.
- Simple breathing techniques are a really helpful coping strategy as you can do them anywhere at any time. These can be found in books, on the internet and via audiotapes available from most libraries.
- To maintain a healthy mind it’s really important that we eat a healthy balanced diet containing lots of ‘good mood foods’ such as oily fish, whole grains, fruit and vegetables that are known to boost ‘feel good’ hormones.
- Try to look after yourself, no matter how hard it seems, small efforts such as making sure you shower daily and putting on clean clothes can make a big difference to the way you feel.
- Anxiety causes the body to produce excess adrenaline, and exercise is one of the best ways to burn it off, helping us to feel more relaxed.
- Fight the urge to isolate yourself from others and make sure that you use friends and family for support.
- Remember that anxiety is an illness, and the way you feel doesn’t make you weak or a failure, and neither does asking for help.
- Try to avoid alcohol, drugs, tobacco and caffeine, all of which can increase levels of anxiety. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle gives you a better chance of not only overcoming mental health problems, but building resilience to them.
- Joining a self help group is a good way of meeting others who understand what you’re going through and having a safe and open space to share how you’re feeling and learn new coping strategies.
- Complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, meditation and massage can help you to feel more relaxed and give you a better sense of wellbeing.
How can I support someone who has anxiety?
Your friend or relative may be anxious because of a negative experience such as homophobic , biphobic or transphobic bullying, or even for no reason at all. Either way, they can’t help how they are feeling; anxiety is an illness and not something someone can turn on and off.
One of the best ways of helping someone who has anxiety is to offer your support, encouragement and just being there to listen. Laughter is great medicine as it helps us to relax and produce more ‘feel good’ hormones, even just watching a funny DVD can act as mild relief from anxiety for a short time.
It’s understandable that you might feel frustrated and helpless seeing someone you care about isolate themselves and struggle to get help, therefore it’s also important that when caring for someone with anxiety, you also get support yourself.
Remember we’re here if you need us!
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Read these personal stories about living with anxiety. (With thanks to time to change)