It’s safe to say the world is a pretty overwhelming place right now, with many of us muddling through and trying to find our way in the ‘new normal’. Indeed, it’s natural to feel worried at a time of global unrest – but what happens when these worries start to develop into something more serious, like anxiety?
Evidence shows that about one in four people will suffer with their mental health this year*, and it’s previously been reported that generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) affects nearly six out of every 100 people*. But what is it? Psychologist Dr Becky Spelman of the Private Therapy Clinic explains, ‘An anxiety disorder – which might manifest specifically as social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and more – has something in common with normal levels of anxiety around particular life events, insofar as it involves feeling nervous and worried. But, in terms of the impact on the person’s life, it’s really very different.’
She continues, ‘People with anxiety disorders can experience extreme disruption to their lives, with symptoms that can include feeling nervous, anxious and tense, feeling that something terrible could happen, having an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, fatigue, difficulty thinking about anything other than their anxiety, insomnia and gastrointestinal problems.’
For 32-year-old Kate**, a producer from London, who suffers from GAD, it’s like always being in fight-or-flight mode. ‘I find that my brain is often working overtime to protect me from things it perceives as a threat, which can make it very difficult for me to concentrate on anything else,’ she explains. ‘I’ve found it particularly hard to control these thoughts during lockdown, when the focus of my anxiety has turned to my health and that of my friends and family. With my mind working overtime in that way, I’ve really struggled with sleeping and have found it hard to think about anything but the crisis.’
So, what can you do if you feel like your anxiety is beginning to take over? Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at the mental health charity Mind, says, ‘There are lots of self-care techniques you can try to help you manage your anxiety. Speak to someone you trust about how you feel or, if you aren’t able to open up to someone close to you, call a confidential helpline such as those run by the Samaritans, Anxiety UK or Mind’s Infoline.’ He continues, ‘Breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques can also help you manage anxiety. Keeping a record of what triggered the anxiety and what works in allowing it to pass (such as focusing on slowing your breathing or getting outside in the fresh air) can also help us understand and spot patterns early.’
Photos: iStock. * Mind. **Not her real name