Stress and anxiety – do I need help?

Organisational psychologist - resilience lead
14 October 2016

Almost everyone knows what stress feels like. Tense shoulders, brain working in overdrive, mood swings, feeling overloaded. But how do you know if what you’re dealing with is normal or if you’re actually suffering from anxiety?

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What actually is anxiety?

Anxiety is common in the UK; it affects nearly one in every 20 people. Anxious feelings are quite normal, but this is different from anxiety affecting your health and daily life.

A normal amount of anxiety is one that you feel you can manage, and one that goes away once the stressful situation has passed. But the point at which anxiety becomes a medical condition is when it starts to impact the way you would normally perform or cope with ordinary tasks.

This type of anxiety is where you’re no longer able to function in a normal way. Your anxious feelings are strong, constant or last for a long time. So it might affect your sleep, your ability to work, and your relationships at home.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

You might have a range of physical and psychological symptoms including:

  • panic attacks
  • hot and cold flushes
  • racing heart, tight chest
  • restlessness
  • excessive fear or worry
  • obsessive thinking
  • avoiding everyday situations because you worry they might make you anxious

About panic attacks

A panic attack is a loss of feeling in control of yourself. You feel you can’t control your mind and you can’t control your body. People almost ‘freeze’ with a panic attack, because they feel like they’re going to pass out or even that they’re going to die.

Anyone can suffer a panic attack, but if you’re having them regularly, there are things you can do yourself, and medical help available.

When is stress no longer ‘just stress’?

Stress and anxious feelings are a common response to instances where the pressure of a situation exceeds your ability to cope. But these usually pass once the cause of the stress is removed. That might be a difficult project being completed, a challenging presentation being over, or test results being received. If you find these feelings of being anxious or worried stick around for no real reason afterwards, if could be more than just everyday stress.

Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but someone experiencing anxiety can’t easily control these feelings and may not always know what they’re anxious about.

There are a number of key triggers to look out for which may suggest it’s time to get help.

  • Do you find that you’re irritable, tense and on edge? Is it affecting your relationships?
  • Do you have physical symptoms like light-headedness, nausea, pins and needles or needing the toilet more often?
  • Do you find that your quality of work is suffering and it’s hard to concentrate?
  • Are you finding it hard to sleep or stay asleep?

If so, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about the different options and ways to cope and recover.

Anxiety and depression

Many people may experience anxiety and depression. Almost one in 10 people have mixed anxiety and depression.

When it comes to anxiety and depression, you can often find one goes with the other. Being anxious will often make you depressed because you start feeling negatively about the world and you withdraw, and vice versa. When you’re depressed and feel very low you start getting anxious about the fact that you’re not coping with the situation.

What to do if you need help

Acknowledging that you need some help is an important and brave first step.

The best person to speak to will depend on who you feel the most comfortable with, but a good place to start is with your GP. They may be able to help you directly, or refer you to a specialist. If you know a good psychotherapist who you trust, that’s also a great place to start.

It’s important to remember there are many different ways of managing and overcoming both anxiety and depression. These include self-help tools and resources, talking therapies and medicines that can help you feel better. You might find it really hard to imagine yourself back in a place where you will be happy or motivated again, but with the right help and support, you will get there.

Man texting

If you feel really low or more anxious than you can deal with, you don’t have to cope alone. There are lots of places of support if you need to talk to someone in an emergency. Anxiety UK, The Samaritans and the NHS 111 service all offer help if you need to speak to someone urgently.

Stuart Haydock
Organisational psychologist - resilience lead

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