Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 is from 15th – 21st May
This year the theme focuses on Anxiety. The aim is to increase people’s awareness and understanding of anxiety so that we can prevent it from becoming a problem, as well as making mental health a key priority for society as a whole.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems we face. A recent survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation around stress, anxiety and hopelessness over personal finances stated that a quarter of adults said they felt so anxious that it stopped them doing things they want to do, some or all of the time. Six in ten adults feel this way, at least some of the time.
Anxiety can affect us physically and mentally. If you are feeling anxious, you might notice your heart rate increasing, headaches, loss of appetite, breathlessness, or chest pain. (If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should see a healthcare professional to rule out another physical cause). Anxiety might make you feel tense or nervous, you may find it hard to relax, feel tearful or have problems sleeping and concentrating. Friends or family might notice you are more irritable than usual, or more withdrawn. Or perhaps you seem fine on the outside but feel panicky inside (Mental Health Foundation).
Anxiety affects everyone differently, and the things that help ease anxiety will also differ from person to person.
Causes of Anxiety
We all feel anxious from time to time. Anxiety is a natural response to the uncertain world around us. It’s important that we recognise and respond when we feel anxious, so that our anxiety doesn’t become overwhelming (Mental Health Foundation).
As we navigate the current cost-of-living crisis, it can make us feel a sense of worry and anxiety of financial pressure and the uncertainty of coping, as individuals, families, and communities. In the current cost-of-living crisis, the Mental Health Foundation found that more than a third of adults feel anxious about their financial situation. Mind UK highlight that with this building pressure we still need to focus on our wellbeing, and that we ‘can’t afford to ignore the impact on our mental health.’ We can help one another through the crisis, as well as reaching out for help and support from organisations and resources.
Sometimes, anxiety can become intense and overwhelming, to the point where it affects your ability to live your life. This can lead to a mental health problem.
There are many factors that can lead to developing an anxiety disorder. These include genetics, painful long-term health conditions, traumatic events such as childhood abuse or domestic violence, or drug and alcohol misuse. Your current life situation can also trigger anxiety – for example, money or housing problems, unemployment, work stress, loneliness, bullying, or difficult family or personal relationships.
If anxiety is affecting your ability to live your life, you should contact your GP who can offer help and support.
Anxiety at Work
Large amounts of stress or pressure at work puts you at risk of mental health related problems such as anxiety or depression. More than 800,000 people (around one in 40 workers) were thought to be affected by work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020 to 2021 (Bupa UK).
At Active Care Group we support colleagues with managing their mental health and anxiety levels. We provide an Employee Assistance Program and Mental Health First Aiders.
Employee Assistance Program
Our Employee Assistance Program offers health and wellbeing support to our colleagues.
It is a free confidential service that offers support 24/7, 365 days of the year via their UK based team through telephone or online.
The program specifically focuses on helping people through stress and anxiety, both work related, and non-work related.
Mental Health First Aiders
Our qualified Mental Health First Aiders provide a point of contact for colleagues who are experiencing a mental health issue, anxiety, or emotional distress. Our colleagues are able to talk to them in complete confidence. This reflects our commitment to the Group’s Wellbeing Strategy which focuses upon colleagues physical and mental health, and wellbeing.
For more information on how we support our colleague’s mental health, or for some helpful tips on managing anxiety and stress at work, please see our Stress Awareness Month Blog here
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder. The main symptom of GAD is excessive worrying about different activities and events. You may feel anxious a lot of the time if you have GAD. You might feel ‘on edge’ and hyper-alert to your surroundings.
GAD can affect your day-to-day life. You might find that it affects several areas of your life including:
- Your ability to work or hold down employment.
- Travel, or leave the house.
- Your energy, sleep or concentration.
You might also have physical symptoms, such as muscle tension and sweating.
Panic disorder means you have regular panic attacks with no particular trigger. They can happen suddenly and feel very intense and frightening, it is also possible to dissociate during panic attacks (feel detached from your body). You may also be fearful about having panic attacks in the future.
Fear of certain situations can cause panic attacks, for example, if you don’t like small spaces but have to use a lift. But this doesn’t mean that you have a panic disorder.
Panic disorder symptoms can include:
- An overwhelming sense of dread or fear
- Chest pain or a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly
- Feeling that you might be dying or having a heart attack
- Sweating and hot flushes, or chills and shivering
- A dry mouth, shortness of breath or feeling like you’re choking
- Nausea, dizziness and feeling faint
- Numbness, pins and needles or a tingling sensation in your fingers
- A need to go to the toilet
- A churning stomach
- Ringing in your ears
Social anxiety disorder
It’s normal to worry about social or performance situations. Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is when you will have an intense fear or dread of social situations. This can happen before, during or after an event.
Some common situations where you may experience anxiety:
- Speaking in public or in groups
- Meeting new people or strangers
- Eating or drinking in public
You may be worried that you will do something or act in a way that is embarrassing. You might feel aware of the physical signs of your anxiety, such as:
- Racing heartbeat
- Shaky voice
You may worry that others will notice or judge you and you might try to avoid certain situations. You may see that your fears aren’t logical, but it’s difficult to control them.
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
Phobias are a more intense feeling than fear. They develop when a person has heightened feelings of danger towards a situation or object. Someone with a phobia may avoid the thing that’s causing them anxiety.
Common examples of phobias include:
- Animals – Such spiders, snakes or rodents
- Environmental – Such as heights and germs
- Situational – Such as going to the dentist
- Body – Such as blood or being sick
Health anxiety is the constant worry that you are ill, or that you are going to get ill. If you have health anxiety you may find that you are:
- Constantly checking your body for signs of illness such as lumps or pain
- Seeking reassurance from others or from medical professionals that you are not ill
- Worrying that advice or results from medical professionals are incorrect
- Obsessively consume health related information on the internet and match descriptions of illness to own symptoms
- Avoid health related content, such as TV soaps
The physical symptoms of anxiety may replicate symptoms of illness which can be mistaken for signs of serious illness by those who have health anxiety.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult. Or situations where help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong. This could be:
- Leaving home
- Being in public spaces
- Using public transport
- Being in crowded spaces
You might find that these situations affect your daily routine by actively avoiding them as they make you feel distressed, panicked or anxious.
How to manage Anxiety
On a positive note, anxiety can be made easier to manage. The Mental Health Foundation have given some examples of how you can protect your mental health and manage anxiety. These include:
- Focusing on your breathing. When you’re having anxious thoughts try focusing on your breathing, concentrating on the feeling of your body as you breathe in and out. It can help you control anxious thoughts.
- Exercise is a good way of dealing with anxiety. Remember, activity doesn’t have to be vigorous; try some gentle stretches, yoga, or seated exercises. Any amount of exercise will help.
- Keep a diary. It’s important that we don’t try to ignore our worries. Taking the time to keep a record of what’s happening in your life and how it’s affecting you can help you understand what is triggering your feelings of anxiety. Knowing this can help you better prepare for and manage situations that may cause anxiety.
- Getting support for your money worries. A common cause of anxiety is money. If you’re worried about not being able to pay bills, are struggling to repay debt, or aren’t sure if you can cover your family’s living costs, seek help. Make sure you are claiming all the government supports that you’re entitled to. You can also speak to an organisation such as Citizens Advice or StepChange.
- Spend time in nature. We know that spending time in nature has a positive impact on our mental health. It can help us feel calmer and less stressed.
- Connecting with people. Anxiety can feel very lonely. Connecting with other people can help a lot. Spend time with friends or meet other people through activities such as volunteering, sport or social clubs, or peer support groups. If you’re able to talk to people about how you feel, it can help to reduce your anxiety.
- Try to get some quality sleep or rest
- Try to eat a healthy diet
See here for further information and support on managing anxiety.
Remember, if anxiety is affecting your ability to live your life, you should contact your GP who can offer help and support. No one should struggle alone.