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Anxiety: don't ignore the symptoms

More people than ever are speaking out about anxiety, but what is anxiety and the associated symptoms?

For millions of people in the UK, living with anxiety is a daily reality. There is so much support available for this common mental health issue, but many people do not get the advice, treatment or therapy that would massively increase their quality of life. With recent high-profile people such as Prince Harry speaking publicly about mental health, more people than ever are seeking help for mental health issues such as anxiety.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, a mental health charity, has commented: “It shows how far we have come in changing public attitudes to mental health that someone so high-profile can open up about something so difficult and personal. We know that this has had a huge impact on people who are still struggling in silence with their mental health. Every time someone in the public eye speaks up we know that it encourages ordinary members of the public to do the same”.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal human experience, which makes it more difficult to pin down when it becomes a mental health issue. We all know what it’s like to feel anxious. Feelings of unease, tension, stress and worry are a normal part of facing a big decision or life change, such as a stay in hospital or an important exam. Usually, the feelings stop when the anxiety-inducing situation has passed.

However, for some people the feelings can be overwhelming and debilitating – this makes anxiety a mental health problem. Many people find that they are worrying all the time, and becoming anxious about regular aspects of everyday life or about things that are unlikely to happen.

Physical symptoms of anxiety 

There are many possible symptoms of anxiety, and each person’s experience is unique. Some symptoms are physical and some are psychological, and it will feel different for everyone. As well as the immediate, short term feelings of anxiety there can also be long-term impacts on health and wellbeing.

Physically, people with anxiety might experience:

  • Sickness, headaches, light-headedness and dizziness
  • Churning in your stomach
  • Tension in your muscles
  • Pins and needles
  • Faster breathing and a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Raised blood pressure
  • A need to go to the toilet more or less than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Panic attacks

Anxiety symptoms that can affect you psychologically 

Psychologically, people with anxiety might experience:

  • Tension or nervousness
  • A sense of dread
  • Numbness
  • A perception that the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • A feeling that other people are watching you and can tell that you’re anxious
  • A feeling that your mind is crowded with thoughts
  • Replaying situations over and over again (rumination), especially negative ones
  • A feeling of restlessness and being unable to concentrate3

Anxiety can feel different to different people, so your experience is unlikely to be exactly the same as a friend or family member. You might find that you experience some or all of the symptoms discussed, or have other feelings which aren’t in this list.

How can an anxiety disorder affect your long-term health?

For people who feel anxious a lot, or who have been experiencing these feelings for a long time, it can have an impact on their overall health and wellbeing. People with anxiety may have trouble sleeping or notice a change in their sex drive. Some people have a lowered immune system, which increases their susceptibility to other physical illnesses.

Some people turn to smoking, drinking or taking drugs to try and cope. Any or all of these longer term impacts of anxiety can be detrimental to your ability to live a normal life. Some people with anxiety find it difficult to stay in a job, develop and maintain relationships, and enjoy their leisure time. Many people with anxiety also have depression.

How to deal with anxiety

Speaking up about anxiety is so important. Facing it is the first step to getting the support that will help you feel better. However, some people find it hard to tell people about their anxiety, and struggle with talking about how they feel. The natural reaction to feelings of anxiety is to avoid the things that trigger them, so taking action can itself lead to anxious feelings.

There is also a stigma surrounding mental health, particularly for men who feel uncomfortable talking about their emotions4. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking help for mental health issues such as anxiety. 

The Mix, a charity which supports under 25s, has had a 43% rise in people using their online services. CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a mental health charity aimed at men, has seen double the traffic to their website. Mind, a mental health charity, has taken 38% more calls. Publicly discussing mental health issues is clearly helping to reduce the stigma, and encourage people to talk about how they feel.

Getting help for anxiety

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, or someone you know seems to be experiencing anxiety, it’s important to get help. Follow these links to visit the websites of CALM, The Mix and Mind, where you can find further advice and guidance. You can also access diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues such as anxiety and panic attacks at BMI Healthcare hospitals throughout the country.



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