The term anxiety describes feelings of fear, worry and unease. Everyone will feel anxious some of the time, however it can become problematic if the level of worry seems disproportionate to the cause, or results in excessive avoidance of certain situations. Anxiety is evolutionary necessary for us because it helps us deal with real threats or dangers by preparing our bodies for a fight or flight response through the production of hormones such as Adrenalin and Cortisol. In modern society it is rare for us to face real danger but this process will still kick in when we face a situation that feels frightening or threatening.
When we are anxious we experience both physical and psychological (emotional) sensations such as:
- Tense muscles
- Raised blood pressure
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Feeling tense and nervous
- Having a sense of dread
- Feeling as though your head is busy with thoughts
- Dwelling on negative thoughts (ruminating)
- Feeling restless
- Anger or irritability
There is also a link between anxiety and depression. There are many factors that might contribute to anxiety problems. These include issues from childhood and everyday troubles such as stress, exhaustion, problems at work, housing and money worries.
If the anxiety symptoms are severe they may be an indication of one a number of recognised anxiety disorders such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorders, Phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People with Generalised Anxiety Disorder will feel anxious for longer periods of time and the condition is less likely to be attributable to a specific trigger. If you think that you may be suffering from one of these conditions you should discuss with your G.P. A panic attack is an exaggerated response to fear or stress which might result in a pounding heart, chest pains, sweating, or feeling of being out of your body. Sometimes it can also result in a fear that this might lead to a heart attack or even that one might die. Panic attacks normally pass after about 10 to 15 minutes but can be very unpleasant whilst they last.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce anxiety levels. A healthy lifestyle will help: nutritious food, exercise, sufficient sleep as will relaxation techniques (listening to music, a relaxing bath, meditation or mindfulness, adult colouring books). There are a number of medications that can help with anxiety which you can discuss with your G.P. as well as talking therapies such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). There are also computer based CBT programmes that can be accessed via your G.P.
Counselling can be helpful for people with anxiety - A counsellor will provide you with a confidential and non-judgemental space in which to explore your feelings and to look at the causes of your anxiety. Sometimes (but by no means always) this may include looking at issues from childhood if this is a factor in how you are feeling. Counselling can also help you to challenge the thoughts that have resulted in you feeling anxious and help you to develop strategies to reduce the impact of the physical and emotional consequences of anxiety. Living with a person with an anxiety disorder can also be stressful and difficult at times and so counselling can also be helpful in those circumstances.