Anxiety: what it is and how to overcome it

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders around. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe and it can take many different forms, such as restlessness, irritation, teeth grinding, or something much more serious such as panic attacks. It is something that most people either have experienced at some point, or have known someone who experiences anxious episodes.

Anxiety can make a person imagine that things in their life are worse than they really are, and prevent them from confronting their fears. Sometimes they will think they are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of their woes. What is important is the recognition that anxiety is normal and exists due to a set of bodily functions that have existed in us from prehistoric times.

What are the physiological symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to stress that has both psychological and physical features. The feeling is thought to arise in the amygdala, a brain region that governs many intense emotional responses.

As neurotransmitters carry nerve impulses to the sympathetic nervous system, heart and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal organs to the brain and muscles. In the short term, anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert. But its physical effects can be counterproductive, causing light-headedness, nausea, diarrhoea, and frequent urination. And when it persists, anxiety can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

How can I overcome anxiety?

Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, you should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress, especially when it occurs for no obvious reason.

There are now a lot of support services out there if you need help with anxiety. In the first instance, go to your GP. They will be able to either prescribe talking therapies or anti-depressants, depending on the severity of your anxiety.

You can also try things yourself that will help with the anxiety. For example, going on a self-help course, exercising regularly and cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink. This can help relieve the tension you feel by understanding your anxieties, developing coping mechanisms and reducing blood levels of naturally occurring stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Meditation can also be a great stress reliever and can help you feel more mindful and in the present moment. It can help you slow down your breathing and feel less anxious about things that are troubling you.

Finally, to learn about anxiety can be a good way to overcome anxious feelings. The old adage 'knowledge is power' applies here - learning all about anxiety is central to recovery. For example, education includes examining the physiology of the 'flight-fight' response, which is the body's way to deal with impending danger. For people with anxiety disorders, this response is inappropriately triggered by situations that are generally harmless. Education is an important way to gain control you're your anxiety symptoms.

Where to get help:

If you are suffering from anxiety, don't suffer alone. The NHS1 and Anxiety UK2 have a plethora of online resources, telephone helplines and an online community to help you overcome any anxious feelings and help you feel better for the future.

References:

1 http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/low-mood-stress-anxiety.aspx

2 https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/get-help-3