Mental health charity MIND ran a poster campaign some years ago using the statistic 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetimes. Today, 1 in 4 will experience a mental health problem this year in the UK. By far the most common are depression and anxiety.
Many GPs and therapists are seeing large and increasing numbers of people suffering these problems. They are almost certainly the most common complaints of those prescribed benzodiazepines and those "self-medicating" on codeine, alcohol or illicit drugs.
Depression and anxiety are often grouped together and they do frequently occur in the same individual. However, they are different conditions. Depression will be examined in a later article. What then is anxiety?
Anxiety is a type of fear. Not a fear of something happening right now, but a fear of what may happen in the future. If you have ever thought about tomorrow's driving test or job interview and felt a tightening of your throat muscles, you have experienced anxiety. So anxiety is a natural human emotion, felt by us all at some time.
However, chronic anxiety will not pass when a particular event has passed - it will go on and on. Extreme anxiety means that sufferers are not afraid of looking uncomfortable during a job interview - they fear shopping in town on a Saturday, a conversation with a neighbour, perhaps even leaving the house at all.
Unpleasant symptoms accompany anxiety. Both bodily - headache, tingling limbs, dry mouth - and mental - repetitive thoughts, panic, paranoia. Initially, attention will be drawn repeatedly to anxiety's trigger - the journey to the shops or conversation with a neighbour.
Fortunately, even chronic and extreme anxiety can be reduced to manageable levels. Here are some suggestions:
- Determine that you will overcome your anxiety and be prepared to work systematically to achieve your goal. Take small steps and keep on taking those steps. Avoiding what you fear will keep fear alive; facing the fear will reduce and eventually overcome it.
- Practise Mindfulness of both physical symptoms and though processes. What are you feeling and when and where are you feeling it? Note your findings - without negative judgement. Keep an anxiety diary - in itself, this is likely to reduce anxiety.
- Breathing: Anxiety produces shallow breathing which increases anxiety. Learn how to breathe slowly and fully, even when suffering anxiety. A basic yoga course - from a book, class or online - will help here.
- Counselling can help you to reduce anxiety, long term. Find a skilled, ethical counsellor who feels right for you - and keep your appointments, however much you may feel like missing them.
- Please note that medication can be effective in reducing anxiety. However, it is a supplement, not a substitute for your hard work. Good luck.
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