What is anxiety and how can you manage the condition? Here are five important facts that I think you should understand about dealing with anxiety.
Before we get started it’s crucial to remember this key point: if you suffer from anxiety, you’re not alone. Millions of people in the UK – about one in six according to the mental health charity No Panic – experience anxiety.
Importantly these figures reflect society before Coronavirus. The pandemic has most likely pushed the numbers skywards.
The good news is that awareness of the condition has increased significantly in recent years, and there are many experienced professionals and organisations out there who can help you.
So here are the five things you should know about anxiety.
1. It’s normal
Anxiety is a normal human response. It’s the body’s natural response to potential danger. If we’re getting too close to the edge of a cliff, or a predator is nearby, our body’s fight or flight response kicks in to help us escape danger. The feeling of anxiety stems from this response.
The problem occurs when the fight or flight response is inappropriate or we can’t switch it off. It will interfere with our rational thought processes so that even when we’re trying to do something that could be beneficial to us, our mind tells us otherwise.
We can become so overwhelmed by feelings of worry, nervousness or fear about something with an uncertain outcome, that we then avoid doing it. Stage fright and social anxiety are perfect examples.
Feeling mildly anxious before an important event – a public performance, job interview or exam – isn’t a problem. But it does become a serious issue if your anxiety stops you from living your life, doing the things you want to do, achieving your goals or impacts your relationships.
2. Symptoms vary
People who suffer with anxiety can experience a range of symptoms over the short, medium or long term.
- Physical symptoms: racing heart, flushing, hyperventilation, sweating, chest pain, dizziness, headaches, sweating, dry mouth, nausea, increased urinary frequency or diarrhoea.
- Psychological symptoms: a racing mind, your mind going blank, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, compromised decision making, memory problems, difficulty sleeping and intrusive thoughts.
- Behavioural symptoms: Avoidance behaviour, develop phobias, compulsive behaviour, a desire to escape, violent behaviour.
3. There are different types of anxiety
There are different types of anxiety and symptoms and behaviour can vary enormously.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
People with GAD often feel dread and are constantly on edge. They experience an overwhelming worry, a fear that they won’t be able to cope, even when there is no sign of trouble and may seek constant reassurance. As a result, people with GAD often withdraw from social or work situations.
The onset of panic disorder is often sudden and usually involves apprehension and terror that is inappropriate for a situation. One example of panic disorder is performance anxiety. Singers who experience it are prevented from doing the thing they love best – performing for others. Sometimes it is triggered by a negative experience that casts a long shadow and prompt avoidance behaviour. Barbra Streisand, for example, once forgot her lyrics during a live performance – and was so traumatised that she refused to perform live for 27 years.
Symptoms can be debilitating and include shortness of breath, shaking, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and chest pain.
Sufferers develop phobias such as a fear of open spaces, confined spaces, bugs, flying, heights or germs. This can lead to avoidance behaviour. For example, someone with a fear of open spaces might struggle to ever leave their house.
Acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Occurs after witnessing or being involved in a catastrophic or traumatic incident. PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks or intrusive thoughts with sufferers constantly feeling that they’re in danger. They may experience mood swings and outbursts of anger and emotionally numb themselves.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
People with OCD experience repetitive thoughts, behaviours and impulses that are so intrusive it stops them leading their life to the fullest.
This is when anxiety co-exists with other condition for example depression and anxiety or Parkinson’s and anxiety.
4. You need to identify and eliminate the underlying beliefs to eliminate anxiety
In my various jobs as a nurse, hypnotherapist (RTT), Performing Arts Medicine specialist and resilience coach, I’ve helped lots of people with anxiety over the years. I have noticed some correlations in the beliefs that people with anxiety hold. These beliefs are commonly developed during childhood and form an underlying basis for their condition.
Time and time again I’ve come across people who are fearful of making a mistake or being rejected. They fear that if something goes wrong, everything will unravel. They often say things like:
- I’m not good enough
- What I want is not available to me
- I’m different/unusual so it won’t work for me
- I’ll be rejected
- I don’t have what it takes
- Everything needs to be perfect first
- I’m a failure.
I believe that the key to dealing with anxiety is identifying and eliminating these underlying beliefs.
5. There are many strategies for dealing with anxiety
The first thing is not to ignore it. If your anxiety is ongoing and it interferes with your life, you need to act. As I said earlier there is a great deal of understanding and expertise out there. You don’t have to figure it out all by yourself.
Knowledge is power and the more you understand, the more control you will feel. Hopefully, you will also reach a point where you accept that some things are beyond our control, and that is OK. All we can do is our best. No one – regardless of how rich, famous or powerful they are – can control all elements of their lives.
Here are a few simple ways to introduce positive change into your life.
- Be in the moment. Don’t think too far ahead or dwell on past mistakes.
- Turn the focus away from yourself. It’s easy to focus on ourselves as we live in such a “me, me, me” culture. But if you’re trying to tackle a task start by asking yourself: who am I trying to reach or help? If you’re delivering an important talk at work, don’t focus on yourself. Think about how your message will help others do their job. If you’re preparing to perform, consider the message you are trying to convey through your songs and performance. How do you want to impact your audience?
- Focus on what you’re doing not how you’re doing it. If you’re a singer, don’t obsess over your technique. Think about what the audience is looking for – technical brilliance or a great night out? (Answer: a great night out). Focus on connecting with the song, that’s what the audience wants to see/hear/feel.
- Breathe. It sounds simple, but it works. Often when we’re anxious we take high chest breaths and don’t take enough oxygen into the system. Then our body starts to worry that it’s not getting enough oxygen and we start to hyperventilate. Slowly inhale over a count of four in through your nose, hold for two and steadily exhale through your mouth over a count of four (purse your lips to slow down the air flow).
- Act “as if”. You’ve heard the expression “fake it till you make it”. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, act like you’ve done it hundreds of times already.
- Smile or laugh, even if it’s false. Also simple but effective. Try it and you will experience a shift in your mood (check out laughtertherapy.org.uk)
- Assume a power pose. Our body language influences how we behave. Before an important meeting/audition take time out to find a quiet space to walk around in a dominant Wonder Woman/Superman pose – hands on hips, chest puffed out, head high. Watch this TED talk on the power of the power pose by psychologist Amy Cuddy
- Exercise. Helps clear the mind and raises our level of endorphins (natural feelgood chemicals).
- Essential oils. Lavender oil is particularly good for relaxation
- Massage. Helps us to relax and find inner calm.
- Yoga. Aids relaxation and deep breathing.
- Visualisation. This can be useful but don’t just visualise yourself being successful. Also, imagine yourself coping if something doesn’t go according to plan. This way if you experience a setback or make a mistake during a meeting or performance, you won’t feel completely thrown.
- Meditation/relaxation/mindfulness. Make sure you take a break from the news and social media (especially in these Coronavirus times) to relax, recharge and think about other things. I love using the app Insight Timer. Lots of free guided and free form meditations.
If you’re looking to explore further afield, here are some ideas to get you started. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s just about finding what works for you.
- Hypnotherapy (Rapid Transformational Therapy). This gets to the root cause of the problem, and quickly! I’m a trained RTT hypnotherapist and have found it can achieve remarkable results. To learn more, read about my RTT work here.
- Limiting belief process. (Check out Morty Lefkoe). This is about eliminating the negative beliefs and thought processes that are holding you back. It’s interesting but can take a bit of time.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy. Helps identify negative behaviours and to re-frame what we do. This therapy is available on the NHS. More info HERE
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Pioneered by Gary Craig, EFT is about tapping certain parts of the body while also focusing on positive messages. Look for a trained therapist or do a YouTube search for “EFT and anxiety” to try it out at home.
- Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). A combination of hypnotherapy and behavioural therapy, NLP involves anchoring – taking yourself into a place of calm and peace. You’ll find more about this on YouTube. There are lots of trained NLP therapists out there too.
- Postural therapies. The Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais can help with relaxation and improve posture and alignment. Often we don’t realise that our body alignment is part of the reason we feel anxious.
- Diet. If you’re feeling anxious ditch the sugar and carbs, and increase fruit and vegetables. Also consider taking supplements such as Vitamin D, and a multi vitami- that includes zinc and vitamin C.
When to seek medical help for anxiety
If your anxiety is unmanageable you need to see your GP. They may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or refer you on to another specialist.
If you are so anxious that you are incapacitated, then you need to follow the advice of your medical specialist. Once you get to a place where it’s manageable, then try some of the therapies and strategies I’ve suggested and you may be able to eventually come off the medication. But you must do this under medical supervision.
How I can help
I’ve helped many people with anxiety by using Rapid Transformational Therapy. Read more HERE and contact me if you have any questions.
Other sources of help and information