This is how to know if you're suffering from an anxiety disorder
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW16). Some 1 in 4 people in the UK will be affected by a mental health issue each year,with anxiety and depression being the most common problems. All this week, JOE will be publishing a series of stories, videos, and personal accounts to engage with and widen the discussion about men's mental health in the UK today.
We all get stressed and feel anxious at some point in our lives - if you don't, you're either Arnold Schwarzenegger or a robot (or both).
Life is stressful. Every day we're faced with daunting challenges - that big job interview, that looming university dissertation deadline, or even a new sales target at work.
Anxiety is the manifestation of fear and worry. It's a general feeling of unease - and it's perfectly natural from time to time.
But for thousands of men, these feelings of anxiety can become too much to handle, and it starts affecting everyday life.
National charity Anxiety UK says "almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all of the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to".
Men are traditionally reluctant to open up about their problems and talk about mental health issues. But asking for help is not a sign of weakness - it takes strength and courage to reach out and tackle your problems head on.
With more and more men living with the burden of anxiety, stress, and depression it is clear we need to start thinking seriously about improving our mental health.
What is anxiety?
For the most part anxiety tends to last for a certain amount of time. You'll find it's often linked to stressful situations like public speaking or starting a new job.
The point is it doesn't last. The unease subsides and you can carry on with your day-to-day life.
But for anyone who may be suffering from an anxiety condition, the fears and worries are more persistent and can happen far more frequently.
There might not be any obvious reason for these feelings and it might not even be linked directly to a stressful situation.
Anxiety UK describes these constant feelings of high anxiety as "chronic worrying" or a "free floating" anxiety condition.
What are the symptoms?
Anxiety can affect everyone in different ways, both mentally and physically.
The NHS says common psychological symptoms are feeling constantly on edge, a sense of dread, restlessness, irritability and difficultly concentrating or sleeping.
People often withdraw from social contact with friends and family to avoid more feeling of worry, or even find it hard to go to work and take time off sick.
Anxiety can have a profound physical effect on people too. Symptoms can include dizziness, tiredness and palpitations, where your heart beats fast and irregular.
You can sweat more, feel a tightness in your chest or feel short of breath, while nausea and stomach aches can also be signs of general anxiety disorder. Headaches, a dry mouth, muscle aches and tension are also common among people suffering from from anxiety.
Different types of anxiety
Everyone is different and so everyone experiences fear, worry, and anxiety in different ways.
There can be all sorts of triggers to anxiety. In fact anxiety itself can be a symptom of a number of connected disorders.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) causes people to be in a constant and general state of anxiety over a long time, which can affect sleep, ability to maintain a job, as well as impact close relationships.
Anxiety UK says sufferers feel like when one worry goes away another one immediately pops up.
The feelings of anxiety can last for over six months and the level of worry is often out of proportion to the risk.
The charity explains this is often "catastrophising" - imagining the worst possible outcome in a situation - such as fearing a loved one has been in a crash if they're late home.
Phobias are a common type of anxiety disorder. The NHS says they're an "overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal."
This exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object can directly trigger anxiety. Phobias can range from fear of spiders (arachnophobia) to fear of small spaces (claustrophobia).
Social anxiety disorder is a complex condition which means people have an overwhelming fear of social situations.
It's one of the most common anxiety disorders and can stop sufferers carrying out day-to-day activities like shopping, calling people on the telephone, and talking to strangers. It can severely affect a person's confidence and self-esteem, interfere with relationships and impair performance at work or school.
It is explored in depth here on the NHS Choices website.
Panic disorder is when people suffer from recurring panic attacks. These attacks happen when people feel a sudden and unexpected sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety resulting in sweating, trembling and heart palpitations.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects one in every three people who have been through a traumatic experience.
This could be anything from military combat, road accidents, suffering violent assaults, sexual abuse or neglect to being in a natural disaster or terror attack.
PTSD sufferers can suffer flashbacks and nightmares weeks, months and even years after the trauma (it'll be familiar to fans of The West Wing, which explored the condition in an episode in its second season).
How do I know if I'm suffering from an anxiety disorder?
There are clear signs and symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety UK has a simple test to see whether you could be suffering from GAD or a connected anxiety disorder.
In the past six months...
- Do you feel that you have been nervous/on edge most days?
- Did you have problems falling asleep
- Did you feel tension in your muscles because of feeling on edge?
- Did you frequently feel tense and irritable?
If you answered yes to some or all of these it could be a sign you're suffering from GAD.
But it's always imperative to go and seek help from your GP who will be able to provide a formal diagnosis and treatment.
What treatment is available?
Generalised anxiety disorder can be a long-term problem so there is often no quick fix.
But your GP will consult you about a range of possible treatments which can make life with the condition much better.
Self-help courses to learn coping mechanisms to deal with your anxiety is often one of the first tools available.
If you need more help, your GP may look to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is an effective treatment for many people with anxiety.
It can help you to understand how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other, while also helping you to question your negative and anxious thoughts.
Other effective treatments include mindfulness, which can help focus your awareness on the present moment and learn to accept certain feelings, and also applied relaxation techniques which is learning to relax your muscles in response to a stressful situation.
Medication can also be an option if there is no success with the behavioural treatments.
How can I help myself?
There are some great ways which you can 'Do it yourself' when it comes to dealing with anxiety.
Like we mentioned in the last section, self-help courses are a good way of learning some good techniques to cope with feeling of anxiety.
One easy way help yourself is to simply exercise more. Aerobic exercise is a good way of releasing tension and stress - but it also makes your brain release the mood-boosting hormone serotonin.
The NHS recommends doing 150 minutes a week of exercise which can be anything from running, swimming, walking, football or anything else that gets the heart and lungs pumping.
Ditching caffeinated drinks is another way to keep your anxiety to a minimum.
Caffeine in drinks like coffee, tea and energy drinks can heighten your anxiety as it speeds up your heart and disrupts your sleep. The NHS also say if you're tired, you're less likely to be able to control your anxious feelings.
Avoiding drinking alcohol or smoking can have a beneficial effect if you're struggling with anxiety.
If you've ever had a heavy night drinking, you'll often feel anxious the day after - this can be amplified in people with existing GAD.
People 'unwind' with a beer or glass of wine - but while it initially relaxes, once it wears off it can actually worsen anxiety because of its effect on serotonin levels in the brain, according to HealthLine.
Similarly, while people think smoking helps them relax, it actually worsens anxiety and tension.
The NHS says smokers are more likely to develop depression or anxiety disorder over time than non-smokers.
Joining a support group is also another great way to be pro-active in dealing with feeling of anxiety. They offer good support networks, advice and also a chance to speak to other people who may be experiencing similar problems.
What treatment can I get
How can I get help?
The Samaritans operates a service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for people who want to talk in confidence. Call 08457 90 90 90.
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