Living with Anxiety
There are lots of conversations being had about anxiety. This isn’t surprising. We have been a part of extraordinary times over the past couple of years and it has naturally led people to feel more anxious. It has been shown the amount of people reporting high levels of anxiety sharply increased during the pandemic.
Does this mean more people have an anxiety disorder these days? Or does this show that we are human beings having a normal reaction to a difficult period in our lives?
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health conditions. It could be argued that the ubiquity of anxiety disorders dilutes their seriousness for those who suffer with these conditions every day. Many people will openly say that they ‘have anxiety’ or ‘are an anxious person’, and while it is fantastic that we are able to have open and honest conversations of this nature to reduce stigma, it appears so commonplace to ‘have anxiety’ these days, that the very real and disabling effects of living with an anxiety disorder can be overlooked and trivialised.
So, where do you draw the line between being human and experiencing emotions such as stress and worry, and having an anxiety disorder?
When the psychological and physical effects of anxiety prevent you from leading your usual daily life for a significant period of time, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. You may well feel that you have always experienced some form of anxiety in your life, with it bubbling away under the surface for as long as you can remember. Experiencing this for a long period of time can even lead to some people having panic attacks. A chaotic inner world can only be held in for so long. When it all gets too much, it can come out in unhelpful ways such as panic attacks, angry outbursts, or by turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol or drugs.
People living with an anxiety disorder will experience their illness in a number of different ways, with everyone being individual in their experiences. Physical effects can include feeling sick, shaking, sweating, feeling light-headed, stomach pains, headaches, feeling tired, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and unexplained aches and pains. Psychological effects can include feeling a sense of doom, feeling very low and/or irritable, constantly worrying and overthinking, and feeling overwhelmed.
Anxiety often involves having a fear of what’s to come and this can lead to overthinking. A spiralling of thoughts transpires with plenty of ‘what if’ questions being fired around in the mind. Uncertainly is a breeding ground for anxiety and can make the sufferer feel like they are not in control of themselves or their life.
The two types of anxiety
It can very much be the case that an individual tends to be a more anxious person and it is just a part of who they are. This is known as trait anxiety, where a person has a tendency to be more anxious and perceive various things as a threat. Genetic influences have a role to play in determining anxiety traits. In addition to trait anxiety, there is also state anxiety, which is a more temporary reaction to an adverse situation. So, someone may experience state anxiety when going for a job interview or being faced with something they have a phobia of. It is important to note that if someone has a tendency to be anxious (trait anxiety), it does not mean that anxiety will rule how they live. It can be managed and does not have to negatively impact their life.
Counselling and other forms of therapy can help people to understand what they are experiencing in terms of their anxiety. Have they always had a sense of anxiousness? Has it been learned as a child through observation? Has something significant happened to them in their life that they’ve never been able to process? Is a current or recent situation causing them a lot of stress and worry? Are they a sensitive person who is prone to overthinking? Anxiety is rarely straightforward but giving yourself the space to acknowledge what you are experiencing and why can be the first steps to overcoming anxiety.
As well as talking therapies, there are other ways to help ease anxiety, such as: exercise; trying to get enough sleep and rest; breathing exercises; going outdoors and being amongst nature; avoiding consuming alcohol and caffeine; trying to distract yourself with something that you find useful; speaking to a friend or loved one; or seeking medication from a health professional. Smartphone mental health interventions have also been shown to help reduce anxiety.
Something to remember is that everybody will experience feeling worried, stressed or overwhelmed sometimes. It is completely normal and does not mean you should be concerned you have an anxiety disorder. However, if you think these feelings are taking over your life and you can’t seem to find a way out, you should absolutely seek help.