Mental Health Awareness Week: Processing anxiety

With increased pressure in everyday life, anxiety can become a big problem, preventing you from carrying out basic tasks. Understanding anxiety and reaching out for support can help.

Anxiety is a normal reaction that everyone feels in moments of fear or nervousness, even when experiencing something new and exciting, but when anxiety becomes a common occurrence, you should look to implement solutions or seek support to help you cope. Whether you are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety for the first time or it is something you have been dealing with for years, support could be an anonymous phone call away.

Pressure

Pressures affecting everyone, most prominently the cost of living crisis, are having a detrimental effect on the disability community. At this time, it’s essential to look after your mental health and to reach out for support when necessary. Niamh Nicholson is the partnerships and helpline coordinator at Anxiety UK, a charity helping people affected by anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression.

“Everything going on will affect people who have never experienced anxiety before, but also people who have,” stresses Niamh. “It started in the pandemic where people began to experience physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, but then there were also people who already have anxiety which is now exacerbated.

“The cost of living crisis is going to add to those concerns, even the war in Ukraine will because world events really do have an impact on people’s general anxiety levels.”

When anxiety becomes a barrier to everyday life, affecting how you carry out work or daily tasks, it’s time to access solutions and find support.

“The first thing is being able to recognise anxiety and know that it’s going to be ok,” offers Niamh. “We encourage people to have regular check-ins with themselves, thinking about how you are feeling, if you’ve got a lot going on at the moment, if you have a lot of concerns or there’s a big list of things that you are managing. Think about whether you need a bit of extra help, and if you do, then the next step is reaching out for support.

“It can also help to focus on the small things we can do ourselves to feel better in our day to day life.”

Reaching out

Seeking support and advice can feel scary at first – it might even add to how you’re feeling – but it can transform how you feel once you access it. The Anxiety UK helpline is a free, impartial service that anyone can access when they want to take the first step.

“Our helpline is answered by friendly volunteers who take calls from around the country,” explains Niamh. “People can ask us for advice and guidance on anxiety, stress, even specific phobias, and it can be about themselves or tips for helping a loved one.”

A short conversation with someone who understands how you are feeling can make a big difference in itself.

“We’re a user-led charity, so we have some experience of anxiety ourselves whether directly or in caring for a loved one with anxiety,” reveals Niamh. “People who have that experience are best placed to support others: you know you’re going to speak with someone who has a level of understanding as well as compassion, because it can be a really isolating experience.

“Just speaking to someone can be really therapeutic in itself.”

When you call a helpline like this, volunteers will have a discussion with you about how you are feeling, they can then offer tips and guidance on what might help or what further support you should access.

“You might just need a bit more information on how to look after your wellbeing in general,” advises Niamh. “That could be some breathing and relaxation exercises, making sure you are exercising and eating well, that you’re sleeping well and getting out for fresh air. Even just learning about anxiety can break down a big barrier to knowing what’s happening within your body.

“Accessing a support group can be a really therapeutic way to share your thoughts and feelings with like-minded people in a safe space, and if you feel like you need that bit of extra support then working with a therapist can help you form an action plan on how to manage anxiety.”

There are a whole host of support methods to help you cope with anxiety, but often a simple approach can be highly effective.

“When you feel anxious you can forget about the basics, simple things that can help you look after yourself,” highlights Niamh. “When did you last spend some time outside? I know for myself that during colder months I really struggle to leave the house, especially if I’m working from home, but then when I do go out it does a world of good and clears my mind.”

Even light exercise outside, like walking or gardening, can help clear stress hormones that have built up in the body, aiding both the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety.

“By doing these simple things like going for a brisk walk or eating well to ensure you have the energy to deal with everything, getting a good sleep, they all help you to process the stress and worries of the day,” explains Niamh. “Nature is freely available to all of us and it really does have a positive impact on our wellbeing.

“Remember to take things at your own pace and that you are completely in control of your own journey, but even these small things can help.”

Helping others

If you are caring for a loved one, or you spend a lot of time with a friend or family member you are close with, and notice they are experiencing more anxiety, starting a conversation can help.

“You can open the conversation with something as simple as ‘is everything ok?’,” advises Niamh. “Ask how things are and remember it’s ok to dig a little deeper, mention that you know they have a lot going on at the moment.

“Just being there for them can help, but let them open up in their own time: we can’t force someone to get help if they’re not ready yet. Be supportive but also be patient.”

Non-judgmental and free support is always close by whether you want to access tools yourself, or in helping a loved one cope with anxiety. By checking in with yourself, implementing simple solutions and, when necessary, reaching out for help, anxiety doesn’t have to rule your everyday life.

Access resources from Anxiety UK online (www.anxietyuk.org.uk) or contact the helpline by calling 03444 775 774, or by texting 07537 416905


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