Feelings of anxiety are common in the UK. In fact, in 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression—a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was higher among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%). So, in short, if you suffer from anxiety, you are not alone.
While anxiety is a normal, natural function, it can spiral out of control with anxious feelings occurring out of context or even every day. Below, I’ve worked through what anxiety is, how it can affect different people and the treatments available, some of which you can try at home. Keep scrolling for your compact guide to dealing with anxiety.
what is anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling of being nervous, fearful or tense. It is a natural human emotion that is triggered as part of the fight or flight response to protect ourselves in times of danger, stress or fear.
Like all animals, human beings release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in stressful, dangerous and life threatening situations. The purpose of these hormones is to aid and protect our bodies when turning to fight the danger, or turning to run away.
All of us experience the feeling of anxiety from time to time, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. Not only would we not be able to protect ourselves, but we also wouldn’t be able to show emotion in stressful or distressing times, or indeed have the necessary adrenaline flowing to drive ourselves to perform when needed, such as in job interviews and exams.
When does anxiety become a mental health problem?
Anxiety becomes abnormal when the feelings occur out of context.
For example, when your anxiety is out of proportion to the level of stress of the situation, the feelings persist when the stressor is removed or without a stressor being present at all.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders; from post-traumatic stress to adjustment reactions, to social anxiety disorders, to panic disorders.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
One of the most common types of anxiety is called is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). In this type of anxiety, people feel stressed, worried or scared most days of their life without any specific trigger. Anxiety can be triggered by simple tasks, which can make activities of daily life extremely stressful or impossible to carry out. This can leave people unable to work through fear of leaving the house or the ability to cope with other people, which can result in social isolation.
The symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder include some or all of the following:
- feeling stressed
- the feeling that something terrible is going to happen
- poor concentration
- mood swings
Mixed anxiety and depression
Anxiety can occur alone or in combination with depression. Mixed anxiety and depressive disorder is diagnosed when the symptoms of anxiety occur in combination with the biological symptoms of depression, which include some or all of the following:
- low mood
- feelings of hopelessness
- poor sleep
- reduced appetite
- increased appetite
- poor concentration
- loss of energy
- poor motivation
- feelings of guilt
Panic disorder is diagnosed when people with anxiety experience extreme episodes of panic. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused high levels of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which are released in times of stress as part of the fight or flight response described above. The symptoms are very real and very scary. They tend to last for 5-10 minutes, without warning and without a specific trigger making them unpredictable.
The symptoms include some or all of the following:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- feeling faint
- tingling in hands and around the mouth
- pins and needles
The treatment for anxiety depends on the type of anxiety that is diagnosed.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT has been the gold standard psychological treatment for anxiety for many years.
It is a talking therapy, which involves working with a counsellor to explore your thoughts and feelings to unravel how particular thoughts and feelings lead to behaviours. It does not focus on events of the past; instead, it helps you to reflect on your current thought processes and develop new strategies to change your behaviour.
In cases of mixed anxiety and depression, anti-depressant medication may be useful to treat the combination of problems although anti-depressants are not routinely prescribed to treat anxiety alone.
Previously, benzodiazepines such as diazepam were frequently prescribed to treat anxiety. However, they are no longer recommended routinely treat anxiety due to their highly addictive nature and the fact that they do not treat the underlying problem causing the anxiety, they only mask the symptoms.
Beta–blockers such as propranolol can be prescribed to ease the physical symptoms caused by anxiety. Ideally, they should be used in the short term in combination with psychological therapy, which targets the underlying cause of the anxiety.
Like many physical and mental health problems, lifestyle factors and adaptations play a big role in symptom management and prevention.
Exercise goes a long way in treating anxiety. It releases natural endorphins to lift our mood and helps our body and mind de-stress.
Mindfulness, through meditation and other psychological training methods, is an excellent way to manage feelings of anxiety and lift your mood. Downloading the headspace app and setting aside just 10 minutes every day can have a significant benefit to your overall mental health.
Methods of self-directed CBT can be assessed by everyone without requiring a referral from your GP. A useful website is Mood Gym.
If you feel like you are suffering from any of the symptoms of anxiety or depression, please please don’t hesitate to see your GP. Anxiety is a really common problem and most GP’s are sympathetic, supportive and experienced in managing your symptoms.