Guide by Condition: Anxiety and Stress
Posted by Mike Phipps on July 15, 2021
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Are you currently experiencing increased feelings of anxiety? Do you find it hard to relax and clear your thoughts? If these symptoms fit your current situation, you might be experiencing what doctors refer to as – Anxiety Disorder.
While it is completely normal to experience worries and concerns at any point in your life, increased feelings of anxiety is not something that should be ignored. With the right strategies and help, most patients recover from Anxiety Disorder.
What Is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety Disorder is a common chronic disorder characterised by constant worrying, restlessness, excessive fear, nervousness and tension occurring in the absence of an organic brain problem.
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Health experts classify Anxiety Disorders into different types to ease the process of diagnosis and management. The 5 main types of Anxiety Disorders include:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – a chronic type of anxiety that disrupts the normal functioning of an individual. People with GAD usually present with persistent and excessive worry about a wide range of situations, rather than a single event.
Phobia – is a type of Anxiety Disorder characterised by the persistent, excessive and irrational fear of an object, or a situation, that’s unlikely to cause harm. A person suffering from a phobia will always try to avoid the phobic object, or situation. Different phobias are termed differently depending on the triggers.
Panic Disorder – is a type of Anxiety Spectrum Disorder in which a person experiences persistent fear about having a, or another, panic attack. Panic Disorders bring an intense feeling of dread. Almost every person who has experienced panic attacks describes them as one of the most fearful feelings they have ever experienced in their lifetime.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) – usually develops weeks after a traumatic event. Events that can trigger ASD include physical assault, sexual abuse, road accidents, unexpected death of a loved one, or natural disasters. ASD usually resolves with the right treatment strategies.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – differs from ASD in its duration. A person presenting with symptoms of anxiety after a traumatic event can be diagnosed with PTSD if the symptoms persist over 30 days, or first appear after 30 days.
What Causes Anxiety And Stress: The Science
Anxiety is caused by an imbalance in ‘brain chemicals’. In a healthy person, the brain releases special brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These little chemicals are vital in the control of emotions.
Serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone, is a brain neurotransmitter secreted to keep you happy.
GABA is the neurotransmitter that reduces activity in the brain, hence calming the mind.
Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is released when you experience fear, such as when you see a dangerous animal.
Unfortunately, sometimes a person may be genetically predisposed to anxiety, or may have experienced constant stress. When the mind is subjected to a lot of stress, more of these anxiety-inducing neurotransmitters are released, and less of the anxiety-preventing ones are produced. Hence, in anxiety, a person has increased levels of norepinephrine and lower levels of serotonin and GABA
Risk Factors Of Anxiety Disorder
Some people are more at risk of developing Anxiety Disorder than others. The risk factors of Anxiety Disorder include:
- Exposure to traumatic experiences, or chronic stresses in early childhood, or adulthood.
- Anxiety as a result of other medical conditions, such as thyroid and heart rhythm problems.
- Having a genetic predisposition, that is having a family member that already suffers from Anxiety Disorder.
- Personality traits, such as shyness, or behavioural inhibition, during childhood.
- Having other mental health problems.
- Alcohol, or substance use.
- Chronic exposure to stress.
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder is difficult to diagnose, as it is completely normal to experience some degree of fear and worry. Anxiety only becomes a diagnosis when it starts affecting a person’s daily life and interferes with the normal functioning of a person.
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The symptoms of anxiety and Anxiety Disorder are numerous and can vary from person-to-person depending on the type of anxiety and its severity.
Anxiety usually presents with a combination of psychological, emotional and physical symptoms. The most common symptoms of anxiety are described below:
Emotional and Behavioural Symptoms
- Worrying thoughts that cannot be controlled, despite wishing to do so.
- A constant feeling of fear and restlessness.
- A sense of doom during severe panic attacks.
- Have difficulty concentrating.
- Intrusive thoughts that cannot be blocked.
- Inability to pause and relax.
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as dry mouth, nausea, abdominal pain, a burning sensation and frequent loose motions.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Night terrors.
- Muscular pain and tension.
- Neck tightness, especially at the back of the neck.
- Headaches that feel like a band stretching on the forehead.
- Menstrual imbalances.
- Feeling like the chest is constricted.
- Palpitations, or "throbbing heart".
- Noise sensitivity.
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With proper guidance and treatment strategies, anxiety can be managed. If you have had anxiety for quite a long time and have difficulty concentrating, it may be more challenging to get rid of it, but it's not impossible. Health professional s approved tips to help you get rid of anxiety include:
Controlling The Flow Of Thoughts With Breathing Techniques
Special breathing techniques can be used to clear the mind from intrusive thoughts. The alternative nostril breathing technique is an effective breathing exercise used in physical activity practises like yoga. This technique can bring relief from anxiety. To perform the alternative nostril breathing technique, simply block your left nostril with your index finger and inhale deeply through your right nostril. Block your right nostril using your thumb and hold your breath for a few seconds. Now, exhale through your left nostril. Repeat these steps a few times until you start to feel relaxed.
Please note that some people may experience anxiety while focusing on their breath. If you find it difficult to practice breathing exercises on your own, you may find it helpful to seek guidance from a qualified therapist.
Try Mental Health Apps Available From The NHS Apps Library
Mobile apps are now focusing more and more on health. You can try using the free mental health apps available in the NHS Apps Library.
Catch It is an app that teaches you how to manage your emotions by changing your perception of certain situations and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You can find Catch it here.
Use Journaling Therapy
Health experts highly recommend Journaling Therapy for those who find it challenging to open up to someone and to speak about their worries and express their emotions. Many anxiety sufferers agree that journaling helps them deal with anxiety better.
Some people may feel anxious about writing down fearful negative thoughts. In this case, it is helpful to think of writing as a way of transferring thoughts from the mind onto paper, just like a computer does when transferring files to clear up the RAM, increasing its storage ability.
Start by spending 15 minutes to jot down some of your worries, irrational thoughts, anxiety triggers, and other uncontrollable negative thoughts. Besides each irrational thought, write down why that specific thought is ‘irrational’. Take some time to reflect on positive and rational thoughts you can use to ‘overwrite’ the irrational ones.
Try Stress-relieving Massages
There are numerous massage techniques out there all claiming to provide the best stress-relieving therapy. But how do you identify the ones that really deliver results? Health professional s recommend opting for acupressure, hot stone massage, or a Swedish massage.
Acupressure works by stimulating specific pressure points to help release muscle tension. Hot stone massage involves the use of smooth, warm stones to release muscle tension. Swedish massage, also commonly known as the classic massage, is designed to loosen up tight muscles. It involves rubbing the muscles in long, gliding strokes in the same direction to that of blood flow towards the heart.
Studies show that foot reflexology is also an efficient and safe intervention that can reduce the levels of anxiety.
Ability Superstore provides a range of massagers to help you relieve stress, muscle tensions and anxiety. This Massage Bubble Foot Spa gives your feet a well-deserved, relaxing, pampering massage to help relax aches and pains while also softening hard skin. The Massage Bubble Foot Spa includes heated water, an infra-red bubble massage and massage roller features.
Infuse Your Room With Relaxing Fragrances
Relaxation can be achieved through the sense of smell. The medicinal power of fragrances has been used for thousands of years. Today, we have a clear understanding of how certain naturally occurring fragrances work on the human body. Lavender is one of the most commonly used oils for anxiety. It is believed that lavender can act on a particular area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is involved in the regulation of brain chemicals. Sage oil, jasmine, frankincense, ylang-ylang are also widely used to calm down stress. You can also try creating different relaxation scenes for meditation by opting for sensory scenes bundles which usually contain a combination of soothing scents.
Listen To Relaxing Music
Research shows that relaxing music can also effectively reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
This Soothing Sounds Dial has been ingeniously designed to help you relax and calm down during an anxiety attack. From the rainforest to ocean sounds, the Soothing Sounds Dial offers twelve different realistic nature sounds to help you relieve stress with a single dial manoeuvre. Its simple design and integrated timer make it one of the most practical and easy to use stress-relieving sound devices.
Try Tactile And Visual Sensory Therapy For Children
Children can also suffer from Anxiety Disorder. Nevertheless, children may not understand how to practice breathing techniques correctly etc. They may also find it difficult to open up to a therapist, or a person close to them. In this case, you may find it handy to look for sensory therapy tools to help your child reduce anxiety and cope with life stressors better. Sensory therapy works by stimulating a child’s senses so as to captivate the child’s attention to the ‘now’ thus distracting them from worrying thoughts.
This Relaxing Sensory Kit makes the ideal sensory therapy resource tool to help children calm down and relax. The tools have been ingeniously crafted to work through visual action, as well as tactile stimulation. The kit comes with a free Fun Kit Bag that facilitates tidying up.
The Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust also provides more information on how to create a sensory bag. You can find the online leaflet here.
Seek Professional Medical Help
If you feel that your level of anxiety is starting to become difficult to control, you should seek immediate professional assistance. Very often, patients delay in seeking help, as they fear that they will be labelled as a ‘mental patient’. Unfortunately, the more a person delays treatment, the more difficult it gets to treat anxiety. The medical treatment strategies for anxiety can either include medications, or psychological therapy, or both.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety, your physician may prescribe certain medications known as anxiolytics. The most common anxiolytics are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine. However, medications may have some unpleasant side effects. Always ask your doctor about the risks associated with any medications.
Psychological therapies used to treat Anxiety Disorder include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a special, clinically-proven technique that uses the concept that your behaviour is the result of your thought patterns and feelings. Simply put, CBT aims at changing the way you think about a specific situation in order to change how you react to it and behave.
People living in England can refer themselves for an NHS Psychological Therapy service such as CBT, without the need for a referral from a general practitioner. You can learn more about IAPT services here.
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Anxiety UK was founded in 1970. Anxiety UK is a registered national charity run by a dedicated, hard-working and passionate expert team of advisors who support those affected by anxiety, stress, phobias and anxiety-based depression.
No Panic dedicates its time and efforts to help those suffering from panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders and other related Anxiety Disorders. It also helps those people who are trying to give up on tranquillisers.
Mind is a leading charity that provides support to anyone suffering from mental health issues. Mind’s team works towards one ultimate goal – to never give up until every person suffering from mental health issues has received adequate support and respect.
Mental Health Foundation UK was founded in 1949. The Mental Health Foundation is a leading mental health charity that has dedicated 70 years in the fight against mental health problems. The charity aims at helping people understand what mental health is, improving the quality of life of and preventing problems.
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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.
- Anxiety – the body’s natural response to stress
- Chronic condition – refers to a human health condition that is persistent, or long-lasting
- Cortisol – is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is a product of the primary stress hormone, cortisone
- Diagnosis – the process of identifying a disease, condition, or injury from its symptoms
- Hippocampus – a complex brain structure which has a major role in learning and memory
- Nausea – the sensation of an urge to vomit (be sick)
- Neurotransmitters – are special chemicals released at the end of nerves. Neurotransmitters carry impulses, or a message from one nerve to another, or from a nerve to a muscle. Examples of neurotransmitters include dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin
- Psychological – mental, or emotional, rather than physical
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) – are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, as its name suggests, works by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, hence making more serotonin available to create proper messages to regulate emotions
- Thyroid – the butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck
- Trigger – something that sets off a disease, or flare up