Everyone can feel anxious from time to time, it is a very normal part of being human. Anxiety comes from our natural fight or flight mechanisms, for example when you correct yourself on a wobbly bike and the rush of adrenaline increases your focus and snaps your body back into control. Anxiety can also be minor, like that feeling you get when you know you are running late. Most people will experience these ‘flutters’ of anxiety, but what happens if that feeling starts to become overwhelming and negatively impacts your life? As a person who has experienced high anxiety throughout my own life and who has needed external help to manage this (through medication and therapy) I am happy to share my insights.
Anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. In my case, I can focus on one idea, examining it from all angles, amplifying its importance to a point where it is the only idea shouting inside my head. The physical response to this will be a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath and muscle tensing to the point where I must lie down and experience the waves of pain both physically and mentally for anywhere from one hour to six hours. I feel lucky as I have had a lot of support in managing this and I can now tell when I am dialling up into an attack and I can often stop them before they happen.
Anxiety is the fear of something you are waiting to happen. Therefore, it is no surprise that a global pandemic would increase anxiety levels for many people. COVID-19 has bought layers of concern for the unknown. We do not know when we will be safe, we worry for our vulnerable friends and family members, we are unsure of government decisions and we are living with financial concerns, employment uncertainty and isolation.
Although we have come a long way with campaigning to speak openly about living with a mental health problem, the stigma still attached to speaking openly about mental illness still prevents us reaching out and seeking help before we hit a point of crisis. Particularly if you are not used to experiencing high anxiety. In addition to this, with lockdown measures in place we are isolated from those people we used to see with frequency who may notice a change in our behaviours and be able to intervene and support when you need it.
Especially if you are isolated, I would recommend that you track your own feeling of mood or form in order to tune in to times you may really need to reach out. Try to daily take note of how you are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is crisis and you should seek help and 10 means peak form. Consider how well you slept, if you are worrying about something at the forefront of your mind, how your physical body is feeling – take the time to assess yourself and record your mark out of 10 daily. If you start to see a trend of feeling below 5 or 6 it is worth reaching out to speak to a trusted friend, family member or professional service to chat through how you are feeling.
Five ways to manage anxiety:
Sarah Restall is the Director of the InsideOut Charter and InsideOut LeaderBoard in the UK