Anxiety; it’s a scary thing. It’s also more common than you think. But what is anxiety? What can you do if you are anxious? I’m gonna chat about how anxiety affects people and what to do when it rears its head.
What is anxiety?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, anxiety is defined as:
‘A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.’
‘A nervous disorder marked by excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behaviour or panic attacks.’
Mind, a mental health organisation in the UK, describes anxiety as ‘what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.’
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 18.1% of the adult population every year – that’s 40 million people! As well as being a generalised term, there are many forms anxiety can take, such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and more. Anxiety often comes hand in hand with depression or other mental health issues because misery loves company.
What does anxiety feel like?
When we’re anxious about something, it sets off the fight or flight response in our bodies. The fight or flight response is described as ‘a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon’. Anxiety causes a whole bunch of symptoms, such as:
- a churning feeling in your stomach
- feeling light-headed or dizzy
- pins and needles
- feeling restless or unable to sit still
- headaches, backache or other aches and pains
- faster breathing
- a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
- sweating or hot flushes
- problems sleeping
- grinding your teeth, especially at night
- nausea (feeling sick)
- needing the toilet more or less often
- changes in your sex drive
- having panic attacks
And that’s just the physical stuff! You can also feel the following in your head:
- feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
- having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
- feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
- feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
- feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
- worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen
- wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
- worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
- rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
- depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body, or like you’re watching someone else (this is a type of dissociation)
- derealisation – feeling disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn’t real (this is a type of dissociation)
- worrying a lot about things that might happen in the future – you can read more about these sorts of worries on the Anxiety UK website.
(sourced from mind.org.uk)
People often describe anxiety as being at different levels at different times. These symptoms may be mild one time or extreme another. But how do you deal with these things?
Dealing with anxiety
There are many ways to deal with anxiety. Many official sources, such as the NHS, state the following:
- cognitive behavioural therapy
- computer programmes designed to treat anxiety
- talking to your GP
- seeing a specialist
- contact a helpline or service such as mind, iTalk, 111 or the samaritans (UK only)
These are all well and good, but going down these roads, while helpful, often mean being put on a lengthy waiting list. People often wait days, weeks or even months to get a foot in the door. This begs the question, how can we cope day-to-day?
Self-care for folks who suffer from anxiety
So, you’re going about your daily business when anxiety comes at you. Here are some things you can do in some situations.
At all times
- Take deep breaths. Focus really hard on the rise and fall of your chest. Maybe even put your palms gently on your stomach or chest and feel them rise and fall. Breathe in for four and out for four. If you can hold for four in between, then even better
- Try your best to focus on the present. Whatever thoughts are going through your mind just acknowledge them and let them go
- If you can safely remove yourself from the situation, even if it’s just to step outside or to the bathroom then do so
- If you can reach someone you trust, in person or otherwise, do so and talk to them
- once you’ve calmed down, getting water or some tea and take small sips regularly
- listen to calming music (playlist here)
- try breathing exercise videos like this or this
- give yoga or meditation a go if you can (Yoga with Adriene is my personal favourite)
- go for a walk
- call a person you trust
- open the window
- do something relaxing and distracting – knitting, colouring, gaming, a puzzle; whatever you want
If you have anxiety, please know that you are not alone and there are ways to deal with this. You are not broken or weak, in fact, you are strong for facing these demons every day and trying to do life stuff as well. It’s not an easy war, but you’re fighting it and winning.
So, there you have it. Here’s a general low-down on what anxiety is and how to deal with it. I have a more personal post about this coming soon, but this has been a more factual one for now.
What do you think? Do you have anxiety? How do you cope with it? If not, how do you feel now? Let me know either on Twitter @apageoutofchloe or down in the comments below. I’d love to talk to you all and start a little community!