Anxiety. One the most widely suffered mental illnesses, yet one of the most receptive to treatment. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Worry and stress is a normal human reaction experienced when we are confronted with a pressure situation. Generally, once the source of stress is no longer there, the feelings dissipate. Anxiety is when these feelings don’t go away – when they linger around without any reason or cause. Anxiety can be debilitating and make it hard for someone to cope with daily life. It is normal to feel anxious every now and then, but for someone experiencing an anxiety disorder, these feelings aren’t easily controlled.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY?
There are many factors that can “cause” or contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder. These include a genetic predisposition, personality factors, ongoing stressful events, substance use and physical health problems.
If someone has a family member who has been diagnosed with anxiety, it can predispose them to developing the disorder themselves. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop anxiety, but it can place them at a higher risk.
Research has shown that people with certain personality traits are more likely to develop anxiety disorders. Perfectionism, timidness, inhibition, lacking self-esteem, or the need to control are all traits that are associated with higher levels of anxiety amongst children, adolescence and adults.
Psychosocial stressors can be catalyst for the development of anxiety. The most common of which include death, loss of a loved one, interpersonal relationship problems, moving house, work or job stress, trauma, pregnancy and giving birth.
Chronic physical health conditions can influence anxiety. Conditions such as an overactive thyroid can mimic symptoms, which can often be mistaken as anxiety.
Alcohol and drugs can be used by people to try and “self medicate” or manage their anxiety. This can lead to the development of a substance use disorder alongside the anxiety disorder. Alcohol and drugs can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, particularly when the effects of the substance wears off.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of anxiety can vary. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, increased heart rate, restlessness, irritability and quickening of the breath. Psychological symptoms include excessive fear, worry, obsessive thinking, and catastrophic thinking. Behavioural symptoms include avoidance of situations which make you feel anxious.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders. Some of which include generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobias, social phobias, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder. The symptoms experienced may differ depending on the type of anxiety affecting you.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
There are a number of tools and tips out there for managing your own anxiety. I will briefly mention a few below that my clients have found to be really effective for them. Please keep in mind that everyone is different and these are just a few of the many strategies you could try.
- Track your thoughts – write them down or use an app on your device to discover which thoughts are making you anxious.
- Challenge your thinking – weigh up the evidence for and against these thoughts and ask yourself how realistic these thoughts really are. What would you say to a loved one who told you they were having these thoughts?
- Stop avoiding! Avoiding whatever is making you anxious doesn’t make it go away, in fact it strengthens the anxiety. Instead try and face these feared situations a little bit at a time!
- Be mindful – practising mindfulness can help you stay grounded in the present moment and not hook in to these unhelpful thoughts. I will write more about mindfulness techniques in upcoming blog posts, however, in the meantime check out my post on Mindfulness for the restless
- Problem solve – set goals, brainstorm possible solutions and put these into practice.
- Limit your alcohol and drug intake
- Self care – ensuring you are eating well, sleeping and exercising is really important for the management of anxiety. See my blog post on self care techniques for more ways to look after yourself.
- Time out – try make sure you do one thing you enjoy each day
- Talk to someone you trust
IF SELF HELP ISNT WORKING
If youve been using some of these strategies, or even some of your own, but your anxiety symptoms still persist – go see your doctor or mental health professional. It could be as simple as finding a strategy that is the right fit for you, but it’ll be easier to work out how to overcome anxiety if you have support from a professional.