Anxiety affects as many as 6% of the population in any given week and up to 8 million cases per year in health clinics in the UK.
Across Europe anxiety affects twice as many women as men. Anxiety is a normal response to any stressful situation such an upcoming exam, interview or even Christmas with the family. The body’s response is an age-old evolutionary pattern called flight or fight, which causes a raised heart rate, sweating and a heightened awareness of risk.
Once the threatening situation has passed, these sensations should disappear as your state of awareness returns to normal.
One of the most common responses to anxiety is avoidance – which can bring immediate short-term relief. This is also a short-term solution that may exacerbate symptoms. Next time the stressful event occurs, further avoidance reinforces your body’s expectation that the situation is dangerous. You never find out whether or not your response is a true reflection of the danger in the situation (causing a negative feedback loop).
The feelings associated with fear and imminent danger may remain in cases of anxiety disorder and can make any stressful episode feel much worse than it is. The symptoms of anxiety disorders can be chronic and disabling with an enormous cost to sufferers.
Some psychological symptoms of anxiety disorder
- feeling you might lose control or are ‘going mad’
- racing thoughts
- feeling as if you might die
- uncontrollable overthinking
- feeling of dread or impending doom
- wishing to escape
Some physical symptoms of anxiety
- difficulty sleeping
- tight band across the chest
- wanting to use the toilet more often
- tingling hands and feet
- tension headache
- stomach ache and nausea
- dry mouth
- hot flushes and blushing
The great news is that anxiety is generally treatable. Mindfulness is a very helpful tool to help you cope with both physical and psychological symptoms in the short term. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medication to help manage symptoms. NICE guidelines recommend education and self help strategies to manage low level episodes of anxiety or low grade psychological interventions such as counselling and psychotherapy to assist with more persistent or severe symptoms.