The term 'anxiety' can be used to describe many situations and emotions that we all face on a daily basis - whether it's sitting an exam, going for a job interview, moving house or having a baby. You may even find it hard to concentrate, eat and sleep if you are feeling particularly anxious about an event coming up.
Worrying, feeling nervous and feeling tense is completely normal and a part of our every day lives, but for some people these feelings of anxiety can become so strong, or last for such an extended amount of time, that it can be overwhelming.
So when does anxiety become a mental health problem?This leap from an 'every day' feeling of anxiety to a mental health problem can, according to mental health charity Mind, show itself in three ways:
1. You might find that you're worrying all the time, perhaps about things that are a regular part of everyday life, or about things that aren't likely to happen - or even worrying about worrying.
2. You might regularly experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety, and maybe panic attacks.
3. Depending on the kind of problems you experience, you might be given a diagnosis of a specific anxiety disorder, for instance, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Common anxiety disorders:
Obsessive Compulsive Dissorder (OCD)
General Anxiety Disorder
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
One in four people experience a mental health problem and anxiety is one of the most common types. If you think you might be struggling with feelings of anxiety, it's important to speak to someone.
Symptoms of anxietyCommon physical symptoms
- Increased heart rate
- Increased muscle tension
- 'Jelly legs'
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Hyperventilation (over breathing)
- Difficulty in breathing
- Wanting to use the toilet more often
- Feeling sick
- A 'tight band' across your chest area
- Tension headaches
- Hot flushes
- Increased perspiration
- Dry mouth
- Choking sensations
Common psychological symptoms
- Thinking that you may lose control and/or go 'mad'
- Thinking that you might die
- Thinking that you may have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
- Feeling that people are looking at you and observing your anxiety
- Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down
- Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
- Feeling like wanting to run away/escape from the situation
- Feeling on edge and alert to everything around you
Anxiety UK recommends visiting your GP if you experience two or more of these symptoms.
If you suffer from anxiety, you may also experience panic attacks, which are an exaggerated version of your body's usual response to extreme emotions such as fear, excitement or stress.
Long-term sufferers may also experience sleep problems, a lowered immune system, depression, or difficulties managing everyday situations such as relationships and employment.
Dealing with anxietyHelp for anxiety tends to fall into three categories: self care, treatment, or medication.
Self care means helping yourself to cope. Some of the methods are very simple, like deep breathing, relaxation techniques, listening to soothing music or talking to a friend or loved one. Many find it helpful to have a distraction when their symptoms are present, such as a quiz or word puzzle, or a physical object like a stress ball.
Others are more in-depth, such as keeping a diary or joining a support group. Often, lifestyle changes like following a healthy diet, cutting out stimulants like alcohol or caffiene and getting more exercise prove useful too.
Natural remedies for anxiety or complementary therapies are also helpful some people - try options like yoga, meditation, massage, reflexology, or hypnotherapy, and see whether your symptoms respond.
If you find that self care isn't enough, and you need additional support, speak to your GP, who can offer a range of options including counselling, therapy, or medication, such as tranquilisers or antidepressants.
Medications prescribed for anxiety
Tricyclics (Anti-depressants) - a group of anti-depressants , such as Amitriptyline (Lentizol, Tryptizol)
MAOI's (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) - a group of anti-depressants that are normally prescribed only when no other anti-depressant medication has worked, such as Phenelzine (Nardil)
SSRI's (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) - most common type of anti-depressants and medication prescribed for anxiety disorders, IBS and premature ejaculation, such as Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Paroxetine (Seroxat)
Sleeping Pills - Prescribed to help with sleep and to calm if you are constantly anxious and other medication hasn't worked, such as Temazepam and Zopiclone (Zimovane)
Anxiolytics (Anti-anxiety drugs) - prescribed, in most cases, purely for anxiety, such as Diazepam (Atensine, Rimapam, Valium)
Beta Blockers - prescribed for the physical symptoms of anxiety such as palpitations, like Propranolol (Inderal)
As NHS resources can be tight and waiting lists long, it is worth noting that membership to Anxiety UK entitles you to fast and discounted access to therapy, as well as access to their mindfulness partner Headspace's service.
The help available depends on your diagnosis, and the type of symptoms you're experiencing, but whatever the situation, it's important to remember that whilst one particular option doesn't work, there are many others that can.
Helping a loved one with anxiety
Whether you're sensing early symptoms of anxiety or caring for someone with a long-term diagnosis, there are a number of ways you can help:
- Listen to how they are feeling, and offer empathy without judgement
- Give them space, and don't pressure them to talk until they're ready
- Recognise when a particular activity might heighten feelings of anxiety, and make appropriate allowances
- Educate yourself about anxiety, so you're better equipped to offer support
- Encourage them to seek external support
- Ask them how you can help - strategies vary from person to person, but the most important thing is knowing you're there for them.