Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger. If you feel frightened or threatened your body prepares itself for 'fight or flight' mode. This involves an increase in heart and breathing rates and the release of stress hormones such as Cortisol and Adrenaline. Whilst a certainly level of anxiety is useful in keeping us safe, problems can arise when your anxiety response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation.

Some of the physical symptoms you may have if you are anxious include:

  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Dry Mouth
  • Racing Heartbeat
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Frequently needing the toilet

Anxiety also causes psychological symptoms. These can include:

  • Feeling tense or agitated
  • A feeling of overwhelming dread
  • Irritability
  • Fear of losing control
  • Why do we become anxious?

Anxiety can be a result of any number of factors. Sometimes it can be triggered by a major change in your life such as the death of a loved one, the breakup of a romantic relationship, problems at work or moving house. Sometimes anxiety comes as a response to a traumatic event such as a major accident or injury, sexual or domestic abuse or experience of war. In other cases, the daily hassles of life can just get too much for us.

Anxieties may present themselves in the form of phobias. For example; social phobia, agoraphobia, vomit phobia (Emetophobia) spider phobia (Arachnophobia) Anxiety can also appear in the form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Some of the most common anxiety disorders are Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder.

Learning to cope with Anxiety

When we feel nervous, anxious or frightened our natural response is to avoid the situation or thing which makes us feel this way. However the more we avoid these things, the more we reinforce our anxieties over them. This can leave you feeling less confident and able to deal with your problems.

The best way to avoid this is to gradually expose yourself to the thing that makes you feel anxious. The more you practice this the more confident you will feel in your ability to deal with these situations, this way you can learn how to manage your anxiety levels.

You may find it useful to learn some relaxation techniques which can help you to cope with your feelings of anxiety. They can help you to stay calm and think more clearly. One of the body's natural reactions when we feel anxious is to breathe faster. This can mean you breathe out too much Carbon Dioxide, leaving less of this in your blood stream. Lack of Carbon Dioxide in the blood can leave you feeling light headed and breathless. If you find yourself hyperventilating because of your anxiety you can use the Re-Breathing technique to control it.

  1. Cup your hands and hold them over your nose and mouth.
  2. Breathe in through your nose then breathe out hard through your mouth.
  3. You should then slowly re-breathe your exhaled air.
  4. Do this 4 or 5 times (but no more than that) and try to remain relaxed.

The Re-Breathing technique is helpful when you find yourself hyperventilating in a panicked situation, however if you are able to recognise the initial signs of panic and/or anxiety you can use the Slow Breathing exercise to stop yourself reaching the stage where you begin to hyperventilate.

  1. Hold your breath and count to 5 (do not take a deep breath)
  2. When you get to 5, breathe out and say 'relax' to yourself in a calm, soothing manner.
  3. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose in a six second cycle. Breathe in for three seconds and out for three seconds . This will produce a breathing rate of 10 breaths per minute. Say the word 'relax' to yourself every time you breathe out.
  4. At the end of each minute (after 10 breaths) hold your breath again for 5 seconds and then continue breathing using the six second cycle.
  5. Continue to breathe like this until your symptoms have gone.

Another technique which you can use when you find yourself beginning to feel tense or anxious is the Cued Relaxation Technique.

  1. Relax the particular area of your body that feels tense. Tighten the muscles, then relax. Think about that muscle relaxing.
  2. Change your posture to a relaxed one when you notice yourself getting tense. Drop your shoulders down in a sideways widening direction.
  3. Repeat a sound or word which you find relaxing for example the word 'calm' or say to yourself 'I am going to relax my body. It is feeling heavier and more relaxed.'
  4. Gaze at a fixed object in the room, such as a picture or ornament which you particularly like.
  5. Think of an image that you find particularly calming and imagine yourself there for example, lying on a deserted beach or floating on a feather mattress through the clouds.
  6. Breathe in through your nose and become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out focus on your calming image. Breathe easily, slowly and naturally.

The NHS has produced a really useful booklet on anxiety disorders which you can access here.

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