As you may know, it was Mental Health Awareness Week last week.
With this still fresh in your minds, I want to talk about Anxiety; What it actually is? What causes it? How does it affect you?
Anxiety seems to be coming a modern epidemic. It is more common and harmful than we may want to admit. According to the findings of a major University of Cambridge report, published in the medical journal Brain and Behaviour, more than 8 million people in the UK suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder.
Until now conversations around mental health have tended to focus on depression, but reports suggest anxiety could be a much bigger problem, which is reflected in the clients I see.
What is anxiety?
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.
Everybody feels anxious at some point in their lives. It's common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life such as starting a new job, taking your driving test, buying a house, raising children, or going through divorce. We expect to feel agitated and nervous, the butterflies fluttering in our stomachs, perhaps a rise in heart beat, but for those suffering from anxiety or panic disorders, these feelings are much stronger and more frequent. If you don’t deal with it, anxiety can seriously affect your life, hold you back and feel dreadful much of the time and that’s no fun at all. Does this sound familiar to you?
The fight or flight response
Like animals, humans have evolved ways to help us protect ourselves from danger. When we feel under threat our bodies react by releasing certain stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones make us feel more alert, so we can act faster, make our hearts beat faster, quickly sending blood to where it's needed most. After we feel the threat has passed, our bodies release other hormones to help our muscles relax. This can sometimes cause us to shake. This process is commonly called the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response – it’s something that happens automatically in our bodies, and we have no conscious control over it.
How does Anxiety affect your body?
Anxiety feels different for everyone,
Here are some examples:
- 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.
For me, anxiety used to feel like I can’t catch a deep enough lung full of air, so felt like I was gasping for air. My heart rate increased, I felt nauseous and just focused on how to run away. Thankfully those feelings are very rare as I generally feel very content and lucky now with my life, but when they’ve happened they have felt terrifying. I see things much more positively and focus on where I am going now, rather than what I didn’t want.
When is anxiety a problem?
Anxiety becomes a problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want and stop you enjoying the good around you. Some examples of this could be If your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time. If your fears or worries may be out of proportion to the situation. If you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious. If your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control as you constantly look for the worse case scenario in every situation. Or you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
So is Anxiety linked to physical health problems?
Some studies suggest that experiencing anxiety could increase the risk of developing certain long-term physical health problems, including diabetes, stomach ulcers, IBS, depression, cancer and heart disease as well as lowering the effectiveness of your immune system. A recent study by Cancer UK, have found that high cortisol levels from stress actually reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment too.
From personal experience, stress has caused me many health problems and my physical health only properly improved once I worked on improving my mind’s health, turning to a positive focus of what I want, rather than focusing on all the negatives I don’t want.
The good news is that the mind is a powerful tool, which we can use to improve our health and happiness. So much so, that after many gynae and back operations, my back went again and I was told another back operation would likely render me paralysed. This initially sent me into greater anxiety about how I was going to cope working, being self-employed and raising my young son, as I was unable to play with him or drive as I passed out with pain a lot. I am sure you can imagine, I had huge fears about our future?
So, I decided that this wouldn’t happen to me! I took encouragement in the fact that many others with terminal illnesses had beaten it using the power of their minds, so I thought I would aim to do the same. In short, I used hypnotherapy and NLP religiously making recovery part of my daily tasks and amazingly it recovered. This shows anything is possible. If your mind is good at focusing on the negatives, it will be good at focusing on the positives once it has been trained to do so.
For more help knowing how to reduce your stress hormones and cortisol levels, see our next blog to be published on the 23rd October.