Dear Doctor, My anxiety has got me on the edge!

Anxiety… just the thought of it can give you anxiety. What anxiety is for one person is completely different for another. Is it just a case of I feel uneasy? or is it the extreme feeling of being gripped in a choke hold and you can’t breathe?

Everyone has had the feeling of anxiety at some point, I guarantee it. The last time you lost your phone or purse, the time you had to open some important results, or when you saw a kid walk out in front of a car. The heart starts racing, you suddenly feel extremely hot and bothered, you can’t focus on what anyone is saying, you start to feel more panicked, you start breathing faster, you know it’s not helping but you feel the stress levels rising…

Imagine a world where everything made your heart beat pound in your chest and everything gave you instant uncontrollable dreaded fear. A life with no rest, no peace and no sleep. Sound horrible? Scary? Exhausting?

Anxiety is a real condition and it happens to more people than we realise. It doesn’t mean you are weak or have no control. Sometimes the chemical balance in our brains makes us feel this way and you can’t just simply switch it off.

Different types of anxiety

I would say there are three different types of anxiety. Firstly, generalised anxiety where you feel overly worried about lots of different things. Secondly, panic disorder where you have severe panic attacks which then make you anxious for some time about having another. And thirdly social anxiety where your anxiety tends to focus around a certain situation or place.

Lots of people have overlaps of all three and even more people have mild versions of just one that come and go from time to time. Like I said earlier its always different for different people.

Today I am going to talk just about how to deal with the first one generalised anxiety, hopefully we will touch on the other two in future. But the advice overlaps for all three.

Different levels of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

It can be hard to quantify because seriously who can put numbers on feelings? If you like there is a questionnaire you can try, it’s called the GAD-7 to give an idea where you stand.

I tend to think more about how long it’s gone on for and how often it’s a problem because in true GAD its usually there for most days of the week for more than 6 months. Other factors are how much it distresses you, how much it affects your ability to function and whether you can control it.

So, if you are anxious once a week and it makes you feel a little stressed or it makes you struggle a bit with concentration. Well I would say congratulations, you are a normal person.

But if it’s a case of I’m anxious from the minute I wake up, I don’t eat, I struggle to sleep, I have lost friends because of it, I can’t concentrate at work, I can’t control it and its starting to make me feel depressed as well. Well then yes it’s pretty bad and we need to be doing something about it!

Ways to treat anxiety

First of all, if you have anxiety and drugs and alcohol are involved then we need to start there because that can make things a whole lot worse, even if you think at the time it’s helping you cope…. Nope they are not doing you any favours.

Next it is important to understand your anxiety, figure out what things trigger it off and what things help calm it down. There is a list of self help books on www.reading-well.org.uk and plenty of online resources like www.patient.co.uk where you can learn more about anxiety to help you come to understand it better. It’s helpful to monitor it for some weeks and sometimes just this active monitoring can help bring things under control.

If that hasn’t helped then you can try something called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). You can do it through your GP or there are some good website versions you can find for yourself. This is a form of counselling but more like the online self-help option.

If you have more severe anxiety, then you definitely need your GPs help. Some more focussed CBT with a counsellor or medications or a combination of the two could be the way forward.

What medications can be used?

Well gone are the days where Diazepam was easily available at the doctors. Short term fix and long term addiction isn’t a good idea.

The most recommended medication is actually an antidepressant. There are certain ones that work well for anxiety. If you have read this far and think you might need some, then please make sure you see your own GP as soon as possible. It really could help.

One thing we used to use which isn’t really recommended now is a thing called beta blockers, usually Propranolol. This works at controlling the heart beat and so controlling some of the symptoms. Even though it may help in the short term, it doesn’t really solve the underlying anxiety.

Other things that can help

Most importantly don’t punish yourself for feeling this way. It can happen to anyone and it can get better. Try to talk to people about it even though that’s not easy remember people are so in tune with their own problems they usually don’t have a clue what is going on until you tell them.

Anything to help you relax is good too. There are so many ways to unwind that we take for granted. Is it talking to a friend, taking a relaxing bath, going for a long walk or starting some mindfulness or yoga/relaxation.

It all helps so don’t give up, find what works best for you.

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