The focus of Mental Health Awareness this week is anxiety. As therapists we have noticed an increase in the number of clients who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety as part of their every day life. There may be many influences to this increase including:
- Current cost of living and financial concerns.
- 2 years of the covid-19 pandemic that resulted in disconnection and isolation in society, risk to health, grief and loss of loved ones, changes in work environment, relationship difficulties etc
- the influence of social media, internet and use of screens. Social media can give a false message of life when we see others doing better or living happier resulting in negative messages of ourselves. Messages interpreted from not enough likes or recognition of posts or indeed cyber bullying that happens in many cases and especially for children and young people.
- The fast pace of life and demands on time and pressure to achieve resulting in a difficult work/life balance.
- Current world events can increase our fears about the future or our personal safety.
- Trans-generational trauma – recognising that we are a province that has experienced much trauma in the past it is recognisable that others’ (like parents/grandparents) coping strategies of managing symptoms of trauma and PTSD can influence and affect the generations that follow.
There is no doubt that anxiety can be very frightening and debilitating to someone’s ability to function in everyday life. In order to treat anxiety it is important that we understand the symptoms through a neurobiological perspective and learn appropriate ways to manage the body sensations, emotions and thinking patterns that are maintaining a nervous system response.
Anxiety symptoms include:
- Heart racing/palpitations/irregular heartbeat
- sweating/hot flushes
- fast breathing
- Churning in stomach/nausea
- Light headedness or dizziness
- Running to the toilet
- Sleep problems
- Racing thought/overthinking
These symptoms are a human and normal response to threat. They are needed in a response to a real threat of danger to enable us to move into a response of survival – fight/flight/freeze etc. However, most anxiety symptoms are due to a perceived threat – triggered from past experiences and our fears of future events. Therapy can help you understand what the perceived threat is to enable you to overcome fears and manage symptoms.
When we experience anxiety it is difficult to remain rational as the problem solving part of the brain becomes hijacked and we act/react from our emotional brain. Therefore, people describe this as feeling overwhelmed, panicky and not being able to think straight which is all true.
Here are some things that can help to bring regulation to the nervous system and reduce the emotional response and engage the problem solving, rational brain again.
Practice Breathing Techniques:
Breathe in for 7 hold for 3/4 and exhale for 11.
It is important that the exhale breath is longer than the inhale to help reduce symptoms and send a message from the lungs to the brain. If unable to do so for so long reduce to 4 and 8.
Notice body sensations but DON’T judge or assess. By fearing the body sensations the cycle will continue.
Use your senses – sight, smell, touch, sound and taste to help you be present – get out in nature and look at the scenery around you or find something you like to touch or taste and bring attention to this in the present.
Writing down your thoughts
By writing down your thoughts and fears through journaling you may begin to understand and recognise that they are perceived threats rather than reality and help to recognise your thinking is irrational. A suggestion is to write down the scenes of the movie you are playing out in your head. Challenge your thinking by asking how true the thoughts are.
Consider your diet
Things like coffee, energy drinks, alcohol and foods of high sugar content can impact heart rate and therefore increase anxiety symptoms.
Talking to someone can help to bring perspective and understanding to your symptoms, help address fears and thinking patterns that are maintaining anxiety and affecting sleep and every day functioning.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) are 2 researched based therapies that are considered by NICE (UK) guidelines to treat generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, phobias and OCD.
Please get in touch for an appointment through our contact sheet, email or phone.