Anxiety

Anxiety

Anxiety and worry are very fundamental human emotions which everyone will feel at times. Many people adapt to very high levels of anxiety and do not consider it a problem.
Anxiety has a very healthy purpose.  It can motivate us to action.  If we did not feel anxious about certain situations then we would risk falling over cliffs, stepping into fires and so on. Similarly, if we had no anxiety about ourselves in relation to others we might well behave with great insensitivity.

But sometimes anxiety can become excessive and unhealthy. Perhaps it is only at that point that we notice that we are anxious, and that it is causing problems.

Anxiety takes different forms These include:

  • General Anxiety (being anxious about many aspects of your life)
  • Worry (continually thinking over a problem beyond what is needed to produce a solution)
  • Specific Anxiety (anxiety over a certain situation - e.g. exams; social situations etc.)
  • Phobia (an excessive fear of a particular situation or object leading to avoidance)
  • Hypochondria (an anxiety about suffering illness)
  • Panic attacks (a sudden uncontrollable triggering of physical anxiety symptoms)

Symptoms of Anxiety
People can experience different symptoms when they are anxious at different times. You may experience several of the following, or only one or two.

Physical Signs

  • racing heart
  • dry mouth
  • increased rates of breathing
  • increased sweating
  • headaches
  • disturbances of bladder and bowel functions
  • trembling
  • disturbed sleep
  • tense muscles lead to increased fidgeting, prickling sensations in the skin and stiffness in the joints.

Thoughts
Anxiety tends to increase the amount of thinking we do in the area of concern. Usually the thoughts are selective -isolating and magnifying the worst aspects of the feared situation.

Feelings
Some feelings could be:

  • feeling 'overloaded' or overwhemed, pressured
  • experiencing mood swings
  • Irritable and dissatisfied with things
  • tearful

These feeling interfere with everday activitity and take the enjoyment out of life.

Behaviour
Sometimes, an anxious person can isolate themselves and withdraw from people. Or there can be increased dependence upon others - such as asking repetitive questions, looking for reassurance, or just needing to be in the presence of others to bring about calmer feelings.

We may become more frenetic and over-active, or else frantically tidying up or making lists of things we absolutely have to do straight away - usually impossibly long lists.
We may avoid the source of the worry entirely - sometimes even to the extent of not even allowing ourselves to think it. For example a person who is worried about speaking in a tutorial may decide not only to not do this, but also avoid imagining doing it and may even hide all the lecture notes associated with the subject of the tutorial.

Coping with Anxiety
It can be helpful to find ways of dealing with the most difficult symptoms of it.

Do not immediately consider complete relief as the only solution. Reduction of the level of anxiety may be a more realistic goal, especially as much anxiety is completely survivable and may even help you.

Take an interest in exactly how your anxiety manifests itself.  Keep a diary recording how you react in different situations and which aspects of the situation are particularly worrying.

Look at the situations you are avoiding because of anxiety and  consider how you could begin to expose yourselves to these in small but increasing steps.

Develop a problem solving attitude to allow you to dismantle the large problems into lots of smaller ones and then to resolve them by practical steps. For example small steps to deal with a large anxiety over public speaking could include observing how others cope; making your tutor aware of the problem you have; preparing the subject; rehearsing in private; taping your voice; practising in front of a friend; getting as relaxed as possible on the day; doing it.

Change your breathing, so that it becomes slower: breathe in through your nose for a slow count of three and out for a slow count of five. Try to do this for a few minutes.  Practice it when you are feeling ok, so that when you feel anxious you can do it well.

Relaxation techniques will not banish a specific anxiety, but they may make you generally happier and so more able to deal with the things you find difficult.

For some people medication can be very useful when they are coping with specific crises, or when anxiety needs to be reduced before further action can be taken. If you feel medication might help you, see your GP.  Be very wary of using alcohol or non-prescription drugs to overcome anxiety. They rarely offer more than a fleeting solution, and can make things worse.