Over the last few years mental health; raising awareness of mental health and the support available, has grown. But while we’re talking about it more, and are much more accepting of mental health as a debilitating condition, the number of people affected continues to rise.
In 1990, there were over 400 million people living with depression or anxiety worldwide. By 2013, this number rose to 615 million. In fact in the UK, an estimated one in four adults will experience a mental health problem each year (that’s more than 16 million people!).
Why is this number rising?
The cause is unknown, but there are a number of environmental and psychological factors thought to contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health problems. Life experiences in particular can have a massive influence on our mental health. If we’ve experienced a traumatic event, for example, our mental health can be compromised.
Yet, an individual doesn’t need to have experienced an accident or traumatic childhood to be experiencing mental health problems as an adult. Common issues such as anxiety and panic attacks can be triggered by particularly overwhelming or stressful, but everyday events too.
Poor work/life balance, for example, can have a big impact on both our mental and physical health. If you work in a particularly intense role, you may find it difficult to switch off. You may need to be available at all hours and so, can run the risk of suffering burnout and exhaustion. If you can’t say no, you may take on stressful, impossible tasks that eventually wreak havoc with your health.
Working hard is important, but there is also a want for change. Gone are the days of having one job for your whole life. Now it’s OK to have a number of roles, in different areas. It’s suggested that this is down to millennials changing the direction of how we work – flexible hours, remote working and ‘self-care days’ are becoming the norm in companies. While this is great for mental health, is our work-hard, play-hard ethic contributing to stress?
Is our need for change and success putting us at risk of mental health problems?
Ann Plews-Conheeney is a clinical hypnotherapist who specialises in stress and anxiety. She tells us her thoughts on mental health and what she’s found to be a common cause.
“From my experience with clients, the most common cause of panic attacks or anxiety stems from our childhood and adolescent, and to some extent, adult experience.”
“As a child or adolescent experiencing a strong emotion or trauma, we can form our own assumptions, perceptions and beliefs, which may not necessarily be true. We carry these perceptions into adulthood which can affect our judgements, decisions and behaviours in everyday life.”
“A recent example of this was a client who came to see me with a severe anxiety disorder that was affecting their ability to cope with everyday life. Their anxiety was being triggered from a childhood experience of being extremely upset having seen a parent become ill. The child then, not understanding what was going on, formed their own perception that anybody who falls ill could die. This perception followed them into their adult life, causing extreme anxiety, believing that when someone close to them has an illness, they could die.”
“Another cause of panic attacks and anxiety, from my experience, is a level of self-expectation that we should be in control of our lives. If we lose this control, we start to feel anxious and uncomfortable.”
Self-expectation as a cause of anxiety is an interesting theory. We can be incredibly hard on ourselves, often expecting too much and when things don’t go to plan, we break down. Sophie, 27, knows about this all too well. She talks to us about her anxiety and how self-expectation affects her.
“The main cause for my anxiety and panic attacks is stress build-up. When I have a lot going on, and a lot to think about during one particular time, my mind and body become overwhelmed. Due to perfectionist tendencies, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything ‘right’.”
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling we will all experience at points in our lives, usually when facing a particularly stressful situation, like an interview or sitting an exam. This feeling will come and go, but for some people, the feeling never leaves. Sparked by a fear of something that has happened, might happen or will happen again, anxiety can follow a person like a shadow, affecting their ability to carry out everyday tasks, like going to work, seeing friends or even leaving the house.
Panic attacks are a sudden, intense feelings of fear. It’s an overwhelming sense of dread that causes a person to find it hard to breathe, and their heart beats hard and fast. While panic attacks are often a symptom of anxiety or an anxiety disorder, for some people, the feeling of dread can happen suddenly and with no reason. Despite there being no physical threat, the body responds in the only way it knows to survive…
And there’s even been an influx of celebs coming out and talking about mental health – their experiences in particular. As the conversation grows, so does our awareness and, the number of people affected is becoming more clear. It seems nobody is exempt from mental health.
Nadiya Hussain, former GBBO winner, opens up about her struggles with her panic disorder in an interview with John Bishop. She described the condition as ‘a monster’ she lives with.
“Some days the monster shouts in my face. No matter where I turn, he will keep shouting at me. I can’t get him out of my face,” she said.
“Other days, he’s behind me and he’ll tap me on the shoulder a little bit here and there through the day and I can ignore him completely.”
“Other days I can put him in my pocket. He’s always there.”
And Nadiya isn’t alone. We’ve seen many well-known faces speaking up and more recently, the likes of popstars Zayn Malik and Selena Gomez, Youtube and business woman, Zoella, and of course, Princes William and Harry have publicly opened up about their experiences of mental health.
Let’s look at the numbers…
In 2016, the panic attack fact-sheet on Hypnotherapy Directory received more than 3600 visits (a 60% increase on 2015) and compared to 2014, page visits have risen by 140%.
Out of the 3600 visits, more than 600 of those were made by people aged 25 – 34 years, closely followed by visitors aged 35 – 44 years (540 visits). Compared to 2015, the number of page visits made by the 25 – 34 age group increased by 300%, while the 35 – 44 rose by 250%.
So, what is it that is making those aged 25 – 44 more anxious?
“Our constant ‘switched on’ way of living limits the amount of time and space we have available to process and reflect on our decisions and behaviours in everyday life,” says Ann.
“Without this time to reflect, we do not give ourselves the space to challenge our perceptions and ultimately, correct them. We, therefore, continue a vicious circle of panic attacks and increased anxiety, instead of learning from our experiences and correcting our limiting beliefs.”
So maybe our busy, determined lifestyles are having an impact on our health, but maybe we know that already. Change is coming and self-care and wellness is growing rapidly. We are recognising that we may need to take a step back, and that it’s OK to do so. In fact, it’s vital.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s important you seek professional help. Your doctor will be able to assess your feelings and symptoms and discuss a suitable treatment option. There are many treatment options available, including anxiety counselling, hypnotherapy and mindfulness.
With anxiety, treatment can’t necessarily take the feelings away, but can teach you ways to cope and manage overwhelming feelings and symptoms.
As a hypnotherapist, we asked Ann if there’s been an increase in people seeking hypnotherapy for anxiety.
“As a hypnotherapist, I have noticed an increase in the number of people seeking an alternative and holistic approach for managing anxiety disorders. I believe this is due to an increased awareness of mental health issues and the acceptance of hypnotherapy as an effective therapy for anxiety disorders.”
While the reason is unknown, there are a number of things that may be contributing to this increase. Maybe it is down to our better understanding – more support is available and now that mental health is being talked about, the stigma is starting to be broken. People aren’t as afraid as they once were to talk about their feelings and ask for help.
Sophie knows how hard it can be, dealing with anxiety alone. While the stigma is starting to be broken, there’s a long way to go. It’s important we keep talking about it and supporting each other.
“If you’re experiencing anxiety, try and understand what’s causing it (if you can) and watch how you speak to yourself. Speak to yourself kindly, reassuring yourself that everything is OK and that it’s OK to make mistakes. Remind yourself that as bad as it feels, it will soon pass,” she says.
“I’ve found this helps me to subside symptoms and calm the mind. Catastrophic thinking such as, “oh my gosh, what’s wrong with me, what’s happening to me” will only prolong a panic attack and in turn, prolong the uncomfortable feelings.”