Is my anxiety normal?
Feeling anxious is common. Understanding anxiety can help us cope with it. Anxiety is a physiological response to a real or perceived threat. You can find out more about this at:
In some situations, being anxious is useful. Some degree of anxiety can help us stay alert, which is helpful when crossing a busy road or performing in an exam and in an emergency, it could save our lives. However, symptoms may be mild or severe and incapacitating.
Anxiety is experienced mentally, physically and in our behaviour.
– Mentally you may be unable to stop worrying, feel irritable, have uncontrollable thoughts and fears.
– Physically anxiety may be experienced as a racing heart, feeling breathless, a churning stomach, muscle tension, headache, shaking, sweating, sleep disturbance.
– In our behaviour, we might want to escape our situation or avoid the source of our anxiety. You may experience any combination of these symptoms.
Research suggests some people experience more anxiety due to reasons including a diet with too much sugar, alcohol or caffeine, smoking, compromised physical health, adverse childhood experiences, even a genetic tendency may increase the risk.
Stress can also increase someone’s anxiety. Life is often stressful with issues such as health concerns, work overload, studying, financial worries, relationship difficulties, unemployment or living with pain. We all have a limit to the amount of stress we can cope with.
While feeling anxious at times can be perfectly normal, some people experience prolonged and generalised anxieties about many aspects of their lives. When anxiety is constant, it is hard to cope. This is referred to as generalised anxiety disorder. Anxiety may also take other forms such as panic attacks, obsessive compulsions, social anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress.
What to do if anxiety is affecting your day to day life.
These are commonly suggested ways to help yourself:
– Eat healthily. In particular cut down on caffeine, sugar and alcohol.
– Avoid smoking
– Distract yourself from anxious thoughts through reading, listening to music, watching a film, gardening, puzzles, creativity.
– Take regular exercise, try to find something you enjoy.
– Engage with other people, talk to people you trust about you worries
– Practice breathing slowly. When we are anxious our breathing is often rapid and shallow. We can reduce the feelings of anxiety by slowing down our breathing. For example, breathe slowly in for the count of five and out for the count of seven, repeat these breaths for a few minutes.
– Practise relaxation and mindfulness. Join a yoga, pilates or tai chi class or find an app that offers a free mindfulness exercise e.g. Headspace.
– Keep an anxiety diary. Write down your thoughts, notice what triggers feelings of anxiety. Try not to avoid the things that are making you anxious.
– Anxiety is often associated with negative self-talk, ‘I can’t manage, I’m hopeless’, etc. Try not to listen to your inner critic. Be compassionate towards yourself.
– If your mind is full of catastrophic thoughts about what might happen, examine those thoughts, check the reality, try to break the cycle of rumination.
There is self-help advice in books and the internet. Check information is from a reliable source. Your local library should have a list of prescription books.
Similarly, with internet sources. Seek information from trusted organisations; the NHS, MIND and linked organisations;
Some organisations have help-lines which offer advice and or a confidential listening service.
When to seek professional help
It may be difficult to know when to seek professional help. As a guide, if your anxiety is more severe or frequent than you are used to or it has become hard to tolerate and is affecting everyday life, don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you are in doubt seek professional help. Make an appointment with your GP or get in touch with Wellspring to find out about counselling.