How to Deal with Anxiety
At Oakland Care, wellbeing and mental health for our team members and residents is a priority. We are highlighting Mental Health Awareness Week with various wellbeing activities within our homes this May.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is ‘Anxiety’. A regular and natural emotion, anxiety can become a mental health problem when it becomes out of control.
Part one of this blog post will help you understand what anxiety is when it becomes a problem, emotional responses, physical symptoms and the brain and body connection when responding to anxiety. By understanding the process of anxiety and the relationship between the brain and body, you can employ some practical methods to help you manage anxiety if it becomes a problem which will be covered in part two.
Anxiety and Worry
Anxiety is essentially worrying and which is a normal emotion. However, there are two types of worry: practical worry and hypothetical ‘what if’ worry. Practical worries are often ‘real’ worries that we can do something about. Hypothetical worries are ‘what if’ situations about the future that we cannot predict or do anything about. For example, ‘What if I crash my car on the way to work this morning’. People who suffer from anxiety that is affecting their mental health have a lot of hypothetical worries.
Worry is a call to action. It tells you there is something you need to look at, but once you are aware there is something you need to look at, worry loses 100% of its value as a thinking style. So, switch your focus to problem-solving practical ‘real’ worries. If a worry is hypothetical and problem-solving most-likely cannot help, do not give these ‘hypothetical worries’ your attention. Instead switch your focus to problem-solving real worries.
The Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be the scariest part of experiencing anxiety for many. Physical symptoms of anxiety manifest in many different ways and in ways you may not even realise are related to anxiety. When anxiety becomes your default setting, physical symptoms often appear without the pre-empted thoughts and worry. Physical anxiety symptoms include a racing heart, dizziness, sweaty palms, unsteadiness, nausea and visual problems.
Anxiety and the brain
Did you know that the brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is fake? Internally created images, whether they are memories, hypothetical or intrusive thoughts, still impact our fear system. If you think, ‘I’m going to have a car accident,’ and get visuals images of this, then you can experience fear and anxiety as if it was real, as the threat registers it as a danger and your body will respond in the same way as if it were real.
Anxiety physically affects a part of the brain called the Limbic System. The same part of the brain that contains the emotional feelings of arousal, joy, happiness, sadness, disgust and anger. The Limbic System is the emotional centre of our brain for both positive and negative emotions. It is influenced by the focus of our attention and our beliefs, whether these are real or not. For example, if we have an automatic thought such as ‘everyone is laughing at me because I have a spot on my face,’ our brain will process this emotion in the Limbic System, and this can lead to safety behaviours like avoidance and reassurance seeking.
The cycle of fear
Anxiety can often result in a cycle of fear. Worry and anxiety can trigger physical responses, which can be scary. So much so you end up fearing these feelings and worrying about when they might occur. You begin to ‘fear the fear’. This then becomes a constant cycle of physical symptoms triggering worry and anxiety, and anxiety triggering physical symptoms.
Part two of this blog post will explore some useful tips for managing anxiety.