Is anxiety stopping you enjoying your life?
It’s normal to feel a level of nerves or to get a little anxious at times, maybe when preparing for a special event or exam or when entering into unfamiliar situations, such as a new job. Sometimes a certain amount of stress is needed for you to perform well and do your best.
However, if anxious feelings grow to an excessive level and are not dealt with, they can become a problem. If you’re suffering from anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. Anxious feelings can stop you from enjoying your life, limit you in your career, stop you sleeping and relaxing and can even cause actual physical symptoms resulting in illness, if they are allowed to get out of hand.
Anxiety can show up in our lives in different ways and forms but is often characterised by feelings of fear and worry about current or future situations, although often these feelings can be triggered by memories of a past event. Anxiety can cause the following symptoms;
Panic, fear, and uneasiness
Not being able to stay calm and still
Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
Shortness of breath
What causes anxiety?
Causes of anxiety can vary- from external factors such as worry about work, study or money, stressful relationships or a traumatic event in our past. Internally, causes can be possible side effects from medication or hormonal changes, during PMT (pre-menstrual tension) or the menopause for example. According to most sources there are five main types of anxiety disorders;
GAD- Generalised anxiety disorder
This is characterised by chronic anxiety and intense worry even when there is little or nothing to trigger it.
This type of anxiety disorder can develop into an intense irrational fear and self-conscious feelings in public during everyday life. Or, often it can be connected to occasional or specific types of social occasions, such as public speaking or when meeting new people. Social anxiety can result in debilitating and intense shyness when socialising in large groups of people or even when faced with a one to one meeting with someone.
In severe cases of social anxiety these uncomfortable feelings can arise almost anytime the person is around others.
PTSD- Post traumatic stress disorder
This disorder can develop following a distressing or frightening experience, or after a situation whereby the person has been physically hurt or threatened. After a traumatic event people are often overwhelmed by the experience. "Normal" reactions such as fear, anger or sadness turn into panic, exhaustion and desperation. PTSD can set in, normally as a delayed reaction, days or even months after the traumatic experience.
OCD- Obsessive compulsive disorder
This is characterised by repetitive and recurring unwanted thoughts or ‘obsessions’ resulting in the person taking actions such as excessive hand washing, cleaning or constantly checking details. These rituals or compulsive actions are repeated often to try to make the unwanted thoughts stop. However, normally the repetitive behaviours only act as a temporary relief. Sufferers of OCD often think that if they don’t follow their ‘rituals’ something bad or unwanted may happen.
Panic attack disorder
A person suffering from a panic attack can experience unexpected intense feelings of fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, breathlessness, chest pain or tummy ache. These attacks are extremely distressing as they can happen when least expected and also can cause feelings of embarrassment and shame, especially if the attack happened in a public place.
How can we deal with anxiety?
There are some simple everyday things you can do minimise these feelings. Here are 10 ideas;
- Exercise- the benefits of physical exercise on our mental state is now well documented, lifting depression and helping us to deal with stress (both of which can make anxiety worse).
- Eat a balanced diet and eat regularly. This will keep your mood more balanced and stop cravings, which can result in anxious feelings.
- Get enough sleep. Try to relax in the evening allowing you to sleep easily when you get to bed. Take a nice hot bath, drink some camomile tea and go to bed early.
- Avoid too much caffeine (a stimulant) and cut down on alcohol, which is a known depressant.
- Ensure you’re breathing properly. Become aware of your breathing and use deep breaths as an aid to produce calm feelings and reduce stress.
- Meditation; find time to meditate. There are many forms of meditation from guided visualizations to Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness. Find a technique that you can work into your life and practice.
- Do something you enjoy doing regularly. Whether it’s watching a movie, reading a book or catching up with friends and connecting. Make time for your leisure time as well as work or study.
- Ask yourself some questions when anxiety rears its head. Ask yourself “If the worst happened how would I deal with it?” (the answer to this may make you feel calmer as you are coming up with creative solutions and will become more proactive and less reactive). Ask “How do I want to feel instead?”. This helps you to gain a new perspective about other possible ways to feel about the situation- it shifts the mindset. You can also ask “Is this my problem or is it someone else’s responsibility?” Often we stress over other people’s business and because it is someone else’s problem, they are responsible for solving it- not you! When this sinks in, you may find you can detach and feel calmer about the situation.
- Scribble down all of your worries into a journal. Journaling is such a cathartic tool. By getting down all of your negative thoughts and feelings on paper you ‘process’ them rather than squashing them down inside of yourself. By doing this regularly your worries and fears will dissipate and have much less of a hold on you.
- Seek some help. CBT, hypnotherapy and stress relief/management techniques can really help people deal with anxiety when it gets out of control.