Anxiety explained and strategies for dealing with it

Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK
01 February 2016
Young woman thinking

As many as a quarter of us get anxiety at some point in life, but what exactly is it?

In simple terms, it feels like fear or extreme worry. There are different types, from a simple phobia of spiders for example, to panic attacks and an overwhelming fear of the outside world. Anxiety can also vary in severity from mild, to severe and debilitating. Here, I’ve described just a selection of strategies to tackle it.

Learn to recognise anxiety

First things first. It can be difficult to distinguish anxiety from the normal stresses and strains that we go through in life. It’s natural to feel anxious from time to time in response to things like a job interview or moving home. But if these feelings are so severe that they start to have a real impact on your everyday life, it’s important to act. Ask yourself the following questions – if any sound familiar, you might have anxiety.

  • Do you feel worried all the time?
  • Do you often feel nervous, apprehensive or on edge?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you find it hard to relax and switch off?
  • Do you often get 'butterflies' in your stomach, tense muscles, feel dizzy or find it hard to breathe?

Reach out

If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talk to someone you trust. This might be a friend, relative or your GP. Support groups can give you information and advice too.

The right anxiety treatment for you will depend on the type of anxiety you have, and how bad it is.

If you have severe anxiety, you might find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helpful. This is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. There’s a CBT computer programme called 'Fearfighter' that’s specially designed for panic or phobia – you can get this through your GP. Your GP can talk to you about medicines for anxiety too.

If you have milder anxiety, it’s worth trying out some self-help techniques first. Give them a go as if you tackle anxiety early, you can prevent it getting worse.

Record your thoughts

If you’re spending your days worrying about things, write these down to recognise what’s making you anxious. Phone apps such as MindShift can help you record them while you’re on the move. Once you have a record you can refer to, these worries might not seem so bad, or you can figure out ways to tackle them.

Learn to relax

Anxiety can be all-consuming so it’s vital to give yourself a break and take some time each day to relax. This might be a challenge at first but there are plenty of self-help books and online resources that can teach you how. Even going for a walk will help to relax you if you pick a good route.

Tackle your worries head on

Don’t bury your head in the sand. If you avoid situations or scenarios that make you anxious, you won’t ever overcome them. Challenge yourself to confront these environments – you might find they really aren’t as bad as you thought. But take it slowly.

Clear your mind

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment and may help you deal with anxiety. You can use different techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga to do this – try a few out and see what works best for you.

Mindfulness has been shown to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, it’s easier to manage them. A number of apps can teach you the techniques – just one example is Headspace.

Strive for a healthy lifestyle

Don’t drink lots of alcohol or take recreational drugs to cope with anxiety. These can make your symptoms worse and will hold you back in getting treatment. Aim to eat a healthy diet, as there’s early research to suggest this can help your mental health as well as your physical health. Couple this with exercise, which is a natural anxiety buster. Getting a good night’s sleep will boost your mental health too.

Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Pablo Vandenabeele
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK

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