Mental health awareness week: Recognising anxiety
Most of you will have heard of the fight or flight response, where the body reacts to a ‘dangerous situation’ by getting ready to fight, or escape. Over the ages, humans no longer have predators to deal with, we no longer face the imminent threat of being someone’s lunch, instead, we wake up and get ready for a day at work. What is important to note, though, is that our bodies have not evolved with the development of our present society. Our bodies continue to identify threats and produce the instinctive fight or flight response, even if we are not in a situation of life or death. Anxiety can now be prompted by many situations such as worrying about a job interview, paying your rent, or meeting new people. Most people can recollect experiencing the fight or flight response, this experience is a common and natural function of our bodies.
However, a lack of open conversations about anxiety, most likely prompted by the longstanding taboo about mental health issues, can mean people fail to recognise that their feelings and physical symptoms are linked to anxiety. Instead, individuals may wrongly identify their feelings as something that is dangerous, a physical health issue or simply ignore them not knowing they can be addressed. With ‘8 million people living with an anxiety disorder at any one time’ in the UK, it is incredibly important this Mental Health Awareness Week to begin to have open conversations about anxiety.
How anxiety manifests
An easy way to have these open conversations is to first understand what the symptoms of anxiety are. Mind states that the ‘Effects of anxiety on your body’ are:
- 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
- sleep problems
- grinding your teeth, especially at night
- nausea (feeling sick)
- needing the toilet more or less often
- changes in your sex drive
- having panic attacks.
Effects of anxiety on your mind:
- feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
- having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
- feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
- feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
- feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
- worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen
- wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
- worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
- low mood and depression
- rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
- depersonalisation – a type of dissociation where you feel disconnected from your mind or body, or like you are a character that you are watching in a film
- derealisation – another type of dissociation where you feel disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn’t real
- worrying a lot about things that might happen in the future.
The list above, which is extensive, shows that anxiety can manifest in a multitude of ways. Having an understanding of what these symptoms are can allow you to identify that you may be experiencing anxiety, and also allow you to and support other individuals who are experiencing anxiety as well. If a colleague confides in you about their anxiety, listen to them, and offer support by signposting them to our website where they can access live support with a Wellbeing Advisor.
It is incredibly important to remember that you must use your understanding of anxiety to take your own symptoms seriously. It is very easy to brush your own indicators of anxiety off. Support and take care of yourself as you would with others. Talk to a trusted individual, whether that is a colleague, friend, relative, and seek support from a professional.
The scope/spectrum of anxiety:
Anxiety exists and culminates in a variety of ways. Whilst the majority of the population will experience anxiety with situations such as impending deadlines, financial situations, or doing things outside of their comfort zone, long-term and more severe instances of anxiety can be diagnosed. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined by the NHS as a ‘long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than 1 specific event.’1
- panic disorder – a condition where you have recurring, regular panic attacks
- phobias – an extreme or irrational fear of something, like an animal or a place
- agoraphobia – a fear related to situations such as leaving home, being in crowds or travelling alone
- obsessive compulsive disorder – a condition that usually involves unwanted thoughts or urges, and repetitive behaviours
- post-traumatic stress disorder – a condition caused by frightening or distressing events.
This mental health awareness week, it is important to remember that anxiety can be experienced at different levels for different people. Everyone deserves to have their anxiety recognised, however big or small. Whilst the topic of anxiety is extremely complex, your ability to understand how anxiety presents will help you to recognise anxiety within yourself, and others. Knowledge about anxiety will not only dispel a misunderstanding of anxiety itself, but will also work to undo the taboo and stigma that still exists.