What is anxiety? (and what helps)

In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the U.K. In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.

But what is it and what can we do about it?

Anxiety can be confused with worry but it’s often more intense, a feeling as if something really bad is about to happen.

Unlike the worry you may get when waiting for news of exam results or an ill relative, anxiety can be persistent, relentless thoughts which on the surface seem like they’ve come from nowhere, although you may have some idea what’s likely to have triggered them.  These thoughts won’t go away and can often be accompanied by a sense of dread or foreboding.

Anxiety is a dark nagging cloud, a feeling that can be overwhelming, preventing people from getting excited about positive things, in the fear that it’s all about to go horribly wrong.  It’s a ‘bad feeling’ amplified many times.

It’s “normal” to worry about family and friends, relationships, work and finances but anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to affect your mood and your behaviour on a regular basis.  You may feel like you need to take certain actions which help you to feel more in control, over situations which actually you may have no control over at all.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • palpitations
  • feeling sick
  • tension in the muscles
  • headaches
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling a desire to withdraw or hide
  • avoiding – including people or places (because you believe then you, or someone you care about, won’t get hurt)

In some cases, these may be accompanied by panic attacks.

For some people, anxiety presents itself in the form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, repetitive thoughts accompanied by rituals carried out in an effort to get the thought or situation “right”.  This may be by checking (e.g. that lights are switched off “properly” by repeatedly turning them on and off), using symmetry (e.g. lining up cans in a cupboard so they all face the “right” way) or through hygiene, making sure that skin isn’t contaminated by dust, dirt, bacteria or something else.

What causes it?

There could be a number of causes including growing up in an environment where there were other anxious people, or who neglected or treated you badly.  It may be that life has dealt you several blows which have caused you to ‘learn’ that worry is the best way to prevent bad things happening.  Although it may seem helpful to ‘prepare for the worst’ this thinking usually leads to regular, negative patterns of behaviour and can mean that many, more positive experiences are missed or avoided as a result.

Although it may seem helpful to ‘prepare for the worst’ this thinking usually leads to regular, negative patterns of behaviour and can mean that many, more positive experiences are missed or avoided as a result.

How healthy your diet is can also impact on your mood, as well as other things you put in your body like drugs and alcohol.  Trauma can lead to anxiety, presenting itself in some cases as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What can help?

Making sure you have a healthy diet is one step to managing anxiety, as is finding someone you can trust to talk with about how you feel.  Many people find ‘positive distraction’ techniques like listening to music, arts and crafts or drawing can be useful to take their mind away from the intense feelings of worry until those feelings dissipate.  Having a focus can be useful, like taking up a hobby, including exercise, as this is known to help improve mood, as is creating an action plan.  Mindfulness can also be a helpful way to manage your mood.  You may also find a therapy like CBT useful.

Research on the online course in 2013 found that for the 273 people that completed the course, there was, on average, a 58% reduction in anxiety levels.3

Statistics in bold: Mental Health Foundation

If you know someone with anxiety, it can be useful to talk with them in a constructive way about your concerns for their health, offering to attend appointments with them if they’d find this useful.  Reassure them that you are there for them and that you want to help.  You may also find it useful to point them towards free resources like the complimentary eGuides you can access when you subscribe to my free mailing list, or information such as that found on the Mind website.  

You may also find the video by Mind below useful.  Help is available; it can be difficult taking the first step towards help but the positive results can offer a sense of release from the burden of worry, and a profound sense of freedom and hope for a positive future.

Image: everythingzoomer

About Delphi Ellis

Qualified Counsellor, Mental Health and Well-Being Trainer, and Mindfulness Practitioner. Creator of Monday Mojo™. Talks 'Lady Business', raising awareness of factors which predominantly affect Women's Mental Health like pregnancy and domestic abuse. Helping to improve the global conversation, and bring an end to stigma and shaming. Dream Explorer as seen on the telly. Avid tea drinker.
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