Anxiety can be characterised by a feeling of unease, worry or fear, often in relation to an upcoming situation or perceived threat. It’s a perfectly normal physiological response that occurs when we feel we may be under threat, and pretty much everyone will have experienced feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. Just think back to a past exam, presentation or medical procedure: that nervous feeling you had in your tummy? Yep, that was anxiety.
Anxiety only really becomes a problem if you begin experiencing it on a regular basis, or if it becomes severe – as if your mind and body is overreacting to the situation at hand.
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic in London, looks at the most common anxiety disorder signs and symptoms, plus offers expert tips on learning how to cope:
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is a basic human emotion that we all experience when our bodies anticipate threat or danger. For various reasons, people can miscalculate the danger of a situation and may experience anxiety issues that are out of proportion to the actual events. This is when anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Trembling or shaking
- Digestive issues
- Feeling of panic or dread
- Ruminating or obsessive thoughts
- Dry mouth
- Feeling nauseous
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulties sleeping (such as not being able to fall asleep; waking up very early and not being able fall back to sleep again, or waking up multiple times throughout the night)
Common anxiety disorders
While anxiety symptoms are common in many people from time to time, specific anxiety disorders are also not as rare as you may believe. For example, according to the Mental Health Foundation, the one-week prevalence of generalised anxiety disorder in England is 6.6 per cent.
There are a number of major types of anxiety disorder, each with its own set of symptoms. However, these disorders often overlap, and it’s not uncommon for a person to display characteristics of several disorders.
• Generalised anxiety disorder
People suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) experience anxiety around everyday life events in a way that disrupts their day-to-day functioning. Someone with GAD will feel anxious or tense most days, have a lot of ruminating thoughts and will probably have difficulty remembering a time when they last felt calm or relaxed.
• Obsessive compulsive disorder
Someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) will have obsessive thoughts and feel they have to engage in compulsive activities as a way of managing these thoughts (even if they find the compulsions upsetting).
• Social anxiety
Social anxiety is characterised by a persistent and overwhelming fear of social situations. These worries can make it very difficult for someone to even go about everyday activities, such as making a phone call or interacting with a cashier in a shop.
• Panic disorder
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by recurring panic attacks, which often happen for no apparent reason. Because the physical symptoms of a panic attack can be so unpleasant (including an accelerated heart rate, sweating and chest pain), people who are prone to experiencing panic attacks become very scared in anticipation of the next attack. This creates a vicious cycle of anticipatory anxiety, further adding to the panic and spurring on more attacks.
• Health anxiety
People suffering from health anxiety will worry frequently about their health and fear that they have a serious physical illness. Often, however, there is no reason to think this. Some people may have a medical condition that they worry about too much, or in a way that is out of proportion to the actual situation. Others might be troubled by, and fixated on, medically unexplained symptoms. Others still may just be persistently worried about future illnesses that they may develop.
Self-help techniques to cope with anxiety
If you find anxiety is beginning to interfere with your everyday life, these five simple techniques may help to ease your worry and calm your racing mind:
✔️ Mindfulness meditation
Start each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation. We all have good and bad days, but even just a short mindfulness exercise can provide you with insight into your emotional state in that moment. Do it first thing in the morning, and you will be able to plan the rest of your day in a way that is sensitive to how you’re feeling.
✔️ Grounding exercises
When we spiral into anxious thinking, we’re very much stuck inside our heads. A quick grounding exercise can help bring us back into our senses. To perform a grounding exercise, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and list the following:
- 5 things you can hear
- 4 things you can see
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Drawing your attention away form your mind and into the present moment will help to stop the spiral of anxious thoughts.
✔️ Exercise regularly
Commit to exercising at least three times a week. Regular exercise ensures the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) in the body, which help to boost your mood and promote feelings of positivity.
✔️ Create a self-help toolkit
Create your own personal self-soothing ‘toolkit’ for when you feel anxious. Our senses can be powerful emotional triggers, so draw on these to help move your attention away from any anxious thoughts you might be experiencing. For example, your toolkit could include making yourself a cup of delicious herbal tea, or listening to a relaxing piece of music.
✔️ Practice self-care
Looking after yourself by practising self-care as much as possible is important for your mental health. Make time to do things that nourish you and provide you with a sense of wellbeing, for example, getting outdoors, spending at least half an hour to wind down before going to bed, reading your favourite book, enjoying an indulgent bath, and so on.
Getting help for anxiety disorders
If you’re suffering from anxiety or think you may be showing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, you do not have to suffer alone. Try the above self-help steps, to aid relaxation and help you cope in an anxious episode. If you feel you may need additional support, therapy can help you unravel the root of your anxiety and discover where it stems from, while also providing you with tools for how to better manage anxious episodes.
If you are struggling with feelings of stress or anxiety, your first port of call should be your GP who will be able to listen to your symptoms and experiences, and then recommend the best course of action for you. For additional support, try one of the following resources:
- Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
- The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
- Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
- CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.
Last updated: 17-01-2020
You Might Also Like