Life can be stressful and from time to time we may all feel worried, nervous or tense but when these feelings become prolonged then you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an umbrella term which can cover a number of different conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic, phobia and post traumatic stress disorder. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety are listed below:
· Feeling on edge, nervous or panicky
· Feeling irritable or impatient
· Feeling restless and agitated
· Having a heightened sense of awareness
· Feeling like you want to run away
· Feeling apprehensive
· Difficulty concentrating
· Thinking “what if”
· Imagining the worst case scenario
· Having racing thoughts
· Worrying that people are looking at you
· Increased use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
· Difficulty relaxing
· Increased heart rate
· “Butterflies” in the stomach
· Needing the toilet more often
· Shortness of breath
· Tremors and twitches
· Muscle tension
· Hot flushes
· Dry mouth
· Tight chest
What causes anxiety?
It is likely that there are number of factors which contribute to anxiety such as genes, physical health problems, stress, personality type, diet, etc. Sometimes there can be an identifiable trigger for anxiety such as moving house, taking exams, going for an interview or experiencing a trauma, however it is not always possible to know what has caused anxious feelings which may have built up over time.
There is some evidence of a link between anxiety and the “fight or flight” response, which is necessary to protect us situations of danger by creating automatic responses in the body, such as an increased heart rate and oxygen levels. Fortunately now, most of us will not be placed in danger on a regular basis however what activates the “fight or flight” response is actually the perception of danger so our bodies can respond to everyday stress in the same way that they did when our prehistoric ancestors were confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger.
Ways to deal with anxiety
Negative thinking patterns can lead to anxiety such as worrying “what if” or always thinking about the worst case scenario, so challenging these thoughts can help to reduce anxiety. Some helpful questions to challenge negative thoughts are:
Is there any evidence that contradicts the thought?
What would I say to a friend who had this thought?
What are the pros and cons or costs or benefits?
Are there alternative ways of looking at the situation?
Another common feature of anxiety is the tendency to avoid anxiety-provoking situations and whilst this performs a protective function in the short-term it actually increases the anxiety in the long-term. One way to help with this is to gradually expose yourself to the situation that you are avoiding in a series of steps from the easiest to the hardest. For example, if you are avoiding going to the supermarket, the first step may be to go to your local corner shop to buy one item and step ten may be to go to the supermarket to buy ten items with a range of steps in between.
Relaxation, healthy eating and exercise can all help with anxiety as does reducing caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. However if these self-help strategies do not help then you may need additional support, whether in the form of medication or talking therapies such as counselling or CBT.