With International Stress Awareness Week taking place from 2-6 November 2020, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub has taken a closer look at how people are affected by anxiety and where to get help.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected people in many different ways this year, with a spike in anxiety one of the most recognisable impacts.
Anxiety is a common health condition in the UK and is estimated to affect 8.2 million people at any one time. Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s quality of life significantly and are associated with impaired social and occupational functioning, a decrease in mental and physical health and an increased risk of suicide.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders. In this respect, they can be tricky to diagnose and in some cases difficult to distinguish from other mental health conditions, such as depression. The most common condition is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), which is characterised by chronic anxiety, worry and tension.
It is estimated that one third of the population experiences an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Symptoms tend to emerge in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, but their occurrence peaks in midlife.
So what does anxiety feel like and how do you overcome it? Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub has teamed up with Cumbernauld Family Hub to explore the subject further.
UNDERSTANDING ANXIETY: AN INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. These are natural reactions we all feel at some stage, and they can be a good thing.
But constant anxiety feels like fear which doesn’t go away, and if it becomes too intense it can take over your life and stop you doing normal everyday things. Anxiety makes you feel worried all the time, tired and unable to concentrate. This can cause sleeping problems and leave you feeling depressed.
There are often physical symptoms which affect the body too, such as a rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, trembling, sweating, dizziness, diarrhoea and feeling sick. Anxiety can come in different forms and range from being mild to severe.
People with anxiety often struggle to relax. They often find that as soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.
What Triggers Anxiety?
Anything from worries about health and money to changes at work, school or relationships can cause deep-seated anxiety.
During the pandemic, there have been many potential anxiety triggers, including fears over the virus, concerns about going outdoors, panic about infecting other people, worries over wearing masks and uncertainties as to what the future holds.
Organisations such as Anxiety UK and Samaritans Scotland have received a huge rise in calls since lockdown rules were relaxed. Such charities have reported that callers tend to have more complex problems than normal and that calls are lasting longer.
Psychiatrists are warning that lockdown and social distancing is affecting people’s routines and stopping them from seeing friends and family. This can make any anxiety they are feeling even worse.
There are also concerns that people aren’t seeking help for their mental health because of fears over the virus, and that this is leading to a rise in emergency cases.
Who is Most at Risk of Anxiety?
At the moment, many people are feeling anxious as a result of COVID-19. Indeed, any big life changes or traumatic events can make you prone to anxiety.
Having a mental health problem can make you feel more anxious, as can having another illness, but how anxious you feel could also be down to the genes you inherit too.
Although early exposure to stress and the experience of trauma are important risk factors for anxiety disorders, evidence also highlights biological causes, such as issues with regulation of the body’s central nervous system, as having a role to play.
While anxiety is widespread across all population groups, it is twice as common in women as in men. Reasons for this have been attributed to women being exposed to more stressful life experiences, such as pregnancy and higher rates than men of domestic and sexual abuse.
Teenagers and young people often feel anxious, and those with special educational needs or from low income families are usually most vulnerable.
Younger children can be affected by anxiety too. A University of Oxford study recently found that primary school children experienced an increase in feelings of unhappiness, anxiety and low mood during the first month of lockdown.
How Can I Help My Anxiety?
There are a number of self-help techniques which can be adopted by people experiencing anxiety, including talking to a friend or relative, joining self-help or online support groups and learning relaxation techniques.
If your anxiety persists and is negatively impacting upon your daily life, it is often wise to book an appointment with a GP to explain your systems. NHS Lanarkshire coordinates a number of support and treatment options for those living with severe anxiety.
Participating in the personal development programme Living Life to the Full is another option for those with anxiety issues. This is a 12-hour course, delivered locally and free of charge by Cornerstone House Centre. It involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a talking therapy which helps people deal with overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller chunks.
The course aims to help individuals manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. The sessions focus on the concept that a person’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can cause a vicious cycle.
How Can I Help Someone Else Who Has Anxiety?
If you’ve never experienced major anxiety, it can be difficult to understand and know how to help others going through it. Here are some tips from Cumbernauld Family Hub for supporting children and young people affected by anxiety:
Be there to listen; ask them how they are regularly, so they get used to speaking about their feelings.
Stay involved in their life; show interest in it and the things that are important to them.
Support positive routines; be a positive role model and support regular bedtime routines, healthy eating and getting active.
Encourage their interests; being active, creative, learning things and being a part of a team are all good for mental health.
Take what they say seriously; help them feel valued in what they say, and help them work through difficult emotions.
There are a range of organisations and services available which offer support to individuals and families in the Cumbernauld area affected by an anxiety disorder.
Signposting to a suitable local service can be obtained by contacting Well-informed on 0800 073 0918 or emailing email@example.com. Furthermore, a range of mental health resources can be accessed by visiting the Elament website.
For young people anxious about coronavirus, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub highly recommends a resourceful web portal published by Young Scot which provides key information, guidance and explanations in relation to COVID-19 in a simple and jargon-free way.