Anxiety, what is it?
It is a term used so liberally within day-to-day life, but this is because it is something that EVERYONE experiences at some point. Anxiety does not discriminate by age, gender, sex or environment. It can impact anyone, anytime, anywhere in any place. Even the strongest, most resilient of people can feel anxious.
However, Anxiety Disorders (e.g., Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder) can be frightening, debilitating and consuming. Individuals have been known to present in medical environments, like doctors’ surgeries and Accident & Emergency departments as a result of symptoms of anxiety. They have described feeling as though they are having a ‘heart-attack’ or that something is ‘seriously wrong with their body’.
Within the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders” - 5th Edition (also known as the DSM-5), symptom criteria for generalised anxiety includes factors like ‘excessive worry’ and also ‘hindering worry paired with a variety of physical symptoms’. Excessive worry means that you continue to worry about things, even when you do not have anything to worry about. Other symptoms described by the individuals that I have worked with include feeling sick or actually vomiting, rapid heart-rate and breathing, increased need to urinate, trembling and pale or flushed skin.
Sometimes people cannot put our finger on it, thoughts are racing, and it is hard to extract the exact thought that is making them feel that way. It is often the feeling that individuals remember.
Anxiety can present in lots of different ways:
Is your partner being short and snappy?
Is your friend being angry or off with you?
Are you feeling sad a lot?
Do you cancel plans a lot?
All of these presentations can be linked to someone experiencing anxiety. Individuals might seek reassurance in an attempt to achieve a short-term sense of relief. Anxiety can be focused on work, social performance, relationships, health and money. Anxiety continues as a result of difficulties with sitting with uncertainty and unhelpful predictions about the future.
The first step to recovery is trying to talk more to the support network around you (family and friends) about the thoughts and feelings that you are having. If you feel unable to communicate it to others, then it can be helpful to write thoughts down, to identify themes and make sense of your thoughts and feelings yourself. Identifying what is making you feel anxious can give you some direction and areas to work towards.
SO – it is so important to remember that ‘you cannot be anxious forever’, it is physically impossible (no really!). The Amygdala in the brain which controls the release of the chemical ‘adrenaline’ can only do this for about 20-30 minutes at a time (on average). That means that although you might experience ‘peaks’ in your anxiety it will reduce over time. Although it is really uncomfortable and distressing, the best way to reduce anxiety, especially over time, is to ‘sit with it’ and allow for the natural ‘habituation’ process to happen (the process where adrenaline naturally reduces in the body).
- Access your ‘Comfort Cards’ for daily support and to provide you a daily recovery focus to work on!
- Try and identify anxious thoughts, explore facts for and against those anxious thoughts and explore more helpful alternatives to them.
- Seek support from clinical professionals – Anxiety is a treatable condition. There is no need for you to worry alone in silence. Treatment, particularly talking therapies will teach you a range of tools to help you manage. There are also medication options that you can consider.