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Anxiety

a mental health condition characterised by persistent and excessive worry, fear, or nervousness about everyday situations

We all have experienced anxiety at one point in our lives, whether it’s sitting an exam, getting ready for a job interview, or even preparing for Christmas. Being anxious at times is normal, as it is a natural and even helpful reaction that helps alert us to dangerous situations. However, the anxiety we experience can be so persistent and caused by seemingly usual situations and triggers which interfere with our daily lives. 

According to the latest Scottish Health Survey, almost 1 in 5 people in Scotland has experienced at least two symptoms of anxiety.  

Spotting when anxiety becomes harmful is tough due to the stigma surrounding mental health. When anxiety is not addressed, it can lead to isolation and loneliness, depression and even thoughts of self-harm. By talking about it, we can create a supportive environment that prevents anxiety from turning into more serious mental health issues. Overcoming stigma is key to building a society that cares about mental wellbeing and stopping anxiety from getting worse.

Common myths about anxiety

ignoring anxiety
will make it go away

Axiety disorders require professional help. If left untreated, symptoms worsen over time.

Therapy and coping techniques can effectively manage, reduce and eliminate these symptoms. 

anxiety attacks can
cause you to faint

When you experience a panic attack, there can be intense feelings of dizziness, and you may start to hyperventilate.
This increase in blood pressure does not cause people to faint.

medications for anxiety
are addictive

The common types of medications prescribed for anxiety are SSRIs and SNRIs, neither of which are addictive. For some people, medication is essential for living with anxiety. However, that’s not the case for everyone.

Causes

Anxiety can be caused by a lot of factors. However, some of the most significant contributors are:

Genetic factors:  People may have a higher risk of developing anxiety if their family members also have anxiety.

Brain chemistry imbalances: Disruptions of certain hormones can impact mood regulation and contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

Trauma and stress: Exposure to traumatic events or prolonged periods of stress can be major triggers for anxiety. Early life experiences and significant life changes play crucial roles in shaping persons susceptibility to anxiety.

Personality and temperament: Certain personality traits, like a tendency towards perfectionism or a negative outlook, can increase vulnerability to anxiety disorders.

Substance use: Drug or alcohol use can exacerbate or trigger anxiety symptoms, creating a complex interplay between substance use and mental health.

Symptoms

Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different and not everyone who has anxiety will experience the same symptoms. Some of the common symptoms might be: 

  • Racing thoughts 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Feelings of dread 
  • Sleep and appetite problems 
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat 
  • Hot flushes or blushing 
  • Shaking 

What are the different types of anxiety? 

Anxiety comes in different forms, each presenting with distinct symptoms. The most common ones in Scotland are: 

Generalised anxiety disorder

The most common type of anxiety. Generalised anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety. It causes excessive worrying about daily activities and events, making people feel on edge and hyper-alert to their surroundings. This can affect their work, travel and sleep.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a condition where a person experiences regular panic attacks without any specific trigger. These attacks can occur suddenly and feel intense and frightening. Symptoms include a sense of dread or fear, chest pain, sweating and other anxiety-related symptoms.

Social anxiety disorder

You might worry about social or performance situations, which can include speaking in public, meeting new people or dating. You might have physical signs of your anxiety, such as sweating, a racing heartbeat or a shaky voice.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by intrusive, unwelcome thoughts or images (i.e., obsessions) that are difficult to ignore. Compulsions, such as repeated checking or cleaning, are performed to alleviate anxiety. Various types of OCD include intrusive thoughts, hoarding, and compulsions related to cleanliness due to perceived contamination.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD often grapple with a range of symptoms that significantly impact their daily lives. Common manifestations include intrusive and distressing memories, flashbacks and nightmares related to the traumatic incident.

‘It took me 21 years to get that anxiety diagnosis, not knowing what was happening and why my mind thought the way it did. After that and adversity during my teenage years, I became more and more resilient after everything that was thrown at me.’

Sarah was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder at 21 and learned how to become more resilient. Read more about her story here. 

What kind of treatment is usually used for anxiety? 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most common and evidence-based therapy for most mental health conditions, including anxiety. It focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviours to develop healthier coping mechanisms. However, it is important to consult a medical professional to determine the best approach that meets your needs.  

In many cases, a combination of both therapies, like CBT and medication, may be recommended for the best results for you. You can read more about CBT on the NHS website. 

How do I manage my anxiety? 

Effectively managing anxiety involves a combination of self-care strategies and seeking professional support. Firstly, identifying and understanding triggers is crucial. This self-awareness enables individuals to anticipate and prepare for certain situations. Developing a routine that includes regular exercise, sufficient sleep and a balanced diet can positively impact overall wellbeing. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help alleviate your stress.  

You can also set realistic goals, break tasks into smaller steps and practice positive self-talk to contribute to a more manageable mindset. Connecting with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counsellor, allows for healthy coping strategies and can provide you with a supportive space to explore and address underlying issues contributing to anxiety. 

How do I support someone with anxiety?

Supporting a person with anxiety requires empathy, patience and open communication. Listening without judgment and validating their feelings is essential. Encourage them to share their experiences and feelings while offering reassurance and understanding. Learn about anxiety disorders to gain insight into their struggles. Assist in identifying coping mechanisms and encourage the practice of self-care. Be mindful of their triggers (for example, discussing their traumatic experience) and help create a supportive environment.

If appropriate, accompany them to therapy sessions or medical appointments. Importantly, avoid dismissing or trivialising their concerns. Your presence, understanding, and encouragement can play a significant role in their journey towards managing anxiety. If their symptoms are severe, encourage them to seek professional help. You can check the NHS website for more information about this.

contact

Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

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