Living with anxiety

We all get anxious. It is a natural response to situations we find threatening and is part of our basic survival instinct. Sometimes we have periods in our lives when our anxiety feels harder to handle than usual, but it passes as circumstances change. Sometimes you may know (accurately or not) why you are anxious. Anxiety can exist in various forms. It can be described as ‘low level’ or ‘generalised’, but it can also be an intense and panicky experience that seems disproportionate; you may find your mind racing and feel you are going around in circles. It might feel like your anxiety has an existence of its own without any obvious connection to your life today. This can all be very distressing, and the not knowing or understanding can itself increase anxiety levels.

The physical symptoms of anxiety may themselves be distressing. Your heart rate and breathing may quicken, you may perspire more and find that your mouth gets dry. Also, the longer-term physical impact of sustained anxiety can be a weakening of the immune system, increased blood pressure and digestive problems.

The strategies that sufferers involuntarily employ to handle anxiety may not always be helpful. If you have ongoing anxiety you may withdraw socially or become avoidant of activities and situations that might otherwise be beneficial or enjoyable. Applying yourself to your job or concentrating generally may become difficult; you may develop particular fears or find yourself in some way behaving compulsively.

Your GP should be able to offer you some help and advice, for both controlling the symptoms and what is causing them. Dealing with the underlying reasons for your anxiety is likely to take longer than dealing with the symptoms. These reasons may, or may not, relate back to a distressing past event or series of events. Sometimes past traumas may even have become lost or blocked from memory. Anxiety may also arise from a general impression of the world and your environment as being hostile and threatening. This could be a way of thinking learned from early life experience.

Suffering from anxiety doesn’t have to mean there are serious mental health issues. Facing up to your anxiety can be the first step towards dealing with it. Taking positive steps with appropriate guidance can help you to feel more relaxed, develop greater self-confidence and to feel healthier, both physically and psychologically, with a greater sense of control.

You can see your GP (usually a good first step) or a counsellor (either by self-referral or through your GP) or confide in a close friend who you trust. Talking about your difficulties, however difficult it may seem to express them, can start you on the road to feeling better. As with many difficulties in life, dealing with anxiety starts with talking.