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“Anxiety cannot protect you from the ills of tomorrow.

But it can rob you of the joy that is today.”

Anxiety. Even writing the word makes me a bit panicky; and given that the connotations with anxiety are feelings of fear and stress, it’s no wonder! We ALL get anxiety from time to time. Some are plagued with it daily, to the point that the person might not even acknowledge they’re anxious because the feeling is so constant, and some will drift along life on a cloud with very little to get anxious about, until a life event shakes everything up. Myself? I get anxious more than I’d care to admit, but particularly when I’m rushing. And after many attempts to remedy this, my ‘day off’ from work still looks something like this: Get up/feed dog/put a wash on/go to the gym/go home/shower/food shopping/go to the bank/meet a friend/phone in beauty orders/clean the house/walk the dog/cook the dinner/try not to have a nervous breakdown – AHHHH!!!! And I don’t even have kids!

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to danger which could come from feeling threatened, being in a stressful situation or being under pressure. When this happens, we release stress hormones such as adrenaline into the blood stream – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it quickens our responses in dangerous situations, also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. However, when anxiety is persistent or overwhelming, and is having a detrimental effect on your life and health, it has stopped being the day-to-day variety of anxiety, and has crossed over into something that requires a bit more attention!

Anxiety disorder symptoms

Anxiety disorders come in many varying forms, but some have similar symptoms. Some common symptoms are:

· A constant feeling of worry

· Your anxiety is affecting your work and relationships at home

· You have irrational thoughts and feelings that you cannot control

· You feel something bad may happen if certain things aren’t done in a certain way

· Avoiding situations such as social events as they cause you anxiety

· You experience a sudden sensation of heart-pounding panic

· You are afraid that danger lurks around every corner and that you rarely want to leave your home

Common anxiety disorders:

Anxiety attacks (panic attacks) are episodes of intense panic or fear. Symptoms are: heart palpitations, feeling faint, trouble breathing, trembling and a feeling of being detached or unreal. I have had panic attacks a few times and they are extremely unpleasant - I will have one if I am in an extreme state of anxiety i.e. if I’m engaged in a heated argument! They can be treated quite effectively by your GP and with some at home remedies i.e. deep breathing exercises.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects people who are in a constant state of worry or fear most of the time, although they might not be able to pin point a particular cause. This is a long-term persistent condition that can include the following symptoms: feeling restless, tiring easily, difficulty concentrating, mind going ‘blank’, being irritable, muscular tension and poor sleeping patterns (difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep). This affects 1 in 50 people at some stage in life, and is most common in women. Although there are medicines available, many find cognitive behavioural therapy the most effective treatment. This is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Talking and changing your behaviour can change how you think (cognitive) and what you do (behaviour).

Obsessive compulsive disorder has been talked about in the media quite a bit recently, naturally because a certain celebrity has admitted to having the condition! It has sadly become a condition that is somewhat laughed about, many thinking it’s simply a compulsion to keep a clean home.

The condition consists of recurring obsessions, compulsions or both. Obsessions are recurring thoughts, images, or urges that cause you disgust or anxiety i.e. you think you have forgotten to switch off the oven and check several times. Compulsions are thoughts or actions that you feel you must repeat like a ritual, such as hand washing over and over again. This behaviour causes anxiety as the compulsions become more demanding and time-consuming. Cognitive behavioural therapy is deemed the most effective in helping this disorder. In terms of reading material, ‘Brain lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour’ by psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz has excellent reviews.

Phobic anxiety disorders

A phobia is a strong fear or dread of an event, object or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. My own phobia has 8 legs and menacing eyes. Yes, the spider. I can handle little spiders, but after an encounter with a furry tarantula in Greece when I was a little girl, well, let’s just say I don’t much like the big ones anymore! I will break into a sweat just thinking about one. But, given that I live on Springfield Road, I can sleep easy knowing that there are no killer spiders under the toilet seat! Thus I can live a normal life and it doesn’t affect me. However, if you have a more complex phobia, such as agoraphobia you may find it difficult to lead a normal life. This phobia is a fear of being in a place where escape may be difficult, so this could affect you travelling, going to the shops or even leaving the house.

Another complex and one of the most common phobias is social anxiety disorder – meaning you fear social situations, such as weddings, public speaking and generally meeting new people. People with this disorder generally worry about embarrassing themselves or worry what people will think of them.

Along with cognitive behaviour therapy and counselling, hypnotherapy can be effective in treating phobias. Only in the news last week was the story of Joe Thompson, a teenage boy whose crippling fear of travelling meant he was unable to leave Abu Dhabi to return home to the UK with his family for over a year, until a hypnotherapist intervened and got him through the flight home.

But even those who haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder aren’t immune from the stresses of everyday life. However, making some positive lifestyle changes can help reduce anxiety significantly – it may not take away the anxiety completely, but it will certainly help you manage better (in terms of anxiety disorders, the following should be used to complement proper medical treatment after consulting with a doctor or specialist)

· Regular yoga practise can help you to stay calm and relaxed in daily life, as well as helping you to cope with stresses and obstacles that come your way.

· Concentrating on deep breathing exercises such as the yogic ‘Ujjayi breath’ (or sound breath) helps to de-clutter the thoughts that harbour our anxieties.

· Meditation is one of the most stress relieving practises that you could do for your well-being – it can be tricky for a busy mind however. Try meditating for 5 minutes at a time and gradually increase the time once you are more used to the practise. “Journey of Awakening, a Meditator’s Guidebook,” by Ram Dass is a very insightful read.

· Get a good night’s sleep – aim for at least 8 hours. Avoid things that will stimulate your mind before bed such as the TV, computer and games.

· Eat a healthy, balanced diet and avoid foods such as fried foods, refined sugars/carbohydrates as well as alcohol and nicotine. Be careful with caffeine also if you have problems with panic attacks.

· Reach for the chamomile tea and the water instead of the wine! Dehydration, as well as hunger, is known to cause more anxiety.

· Maintaining a physically active lifestyle can reduce anxiety as it causes chemical changes in the brain which can boost your mood – aim for 20 minutes of exercise a day.

· Make time for the things, and people, you enjoy. Sod the pile of ironing you have in the cupboard, it can wait another day! Go and see your friends for the best form of therapy.

· Find something to focus on, which could be a hobby, or long term goal. Having too much time on our hands allows our negative thoughts to fester and grow. Concentrating on something will help shift your thoughts from your anxieties.

It can be difficult to acknowledge when we’re anxious because the majority of us lead busy, demanding lives and are probably in a semi-permanent state of anxiety most of the time! Acknowledging that we are not invincible is paramount.For anxiety, everyone will have a different path to recovery. That path might come in the form of medication and/or cognitive therapy for an anxiety disorder. Or it might be anxieties that are a result of an overwhelming work load/home life that requires a bit of a life style over-haul.

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