Anxiety is a word that often has connotations of worry or fear. It is a feeling we all experience in our day to day lives. For example, you may feel anxious before an interview. The reason why you feel anxious is because the stimulus (job interview) is perceived as a threat by you. It may be perceived as a threat because you hold negative thoughts and opinions about it. Therefore, your mind serves as a tool to reflect and analyse what your thoughts are dwelling on. Hence, if your thoughts are dwelling on what could go wrong, your mind will imagine many scenarios of how it will go wrong.
Meanwhile, the fight or flight system in your body; which cannot distinguish between real and imagined threats will respond by releasing cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, designed to prime you and make you more sharp and vigilant under stress. Naturally cortisol is released to help you cope in real life-threatening situations. However, as explained before, your body will only respond to your perceptions regardless of whether the threat is tangible or not. The way cortisol affects your body is through increasing blood pressure, glucose levels and shutting down the reproductive and the immune system. This is useful in the short term, to help prime your body and brain to give your best performance when required. However if you cannot let go of the worry and panic in your mind, your body will continue to release cortisol and this will negatively affect your health and wellbeing in many ways. For example, chronic stress has been known to increase your chances of getting heart disease; since your blood pressure stays really high.
So how does this effect your mental health? Well eventually, what started off as moderate levels of anxiety will turn into generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). This is anxiety experienced over a long stretch of time and anxiety that is without bias. An individual with GAD will develop obsessive neurotic thinking patterns that repeat themselves over and over, because the person feels reliant on these thoughts as a coping mechanism. Normally fears and stresses can be traced to a specific situation or object; however GAD is not defined in this way. Instead, GAD is feeling fear because fear is all you know and feel.
Paradoxically, when people perceive stress as bad they become stressed about being stressed; or become anxious about being anxious.
Often those that undergo treatment are told:
- “You think too much”.
- “Why are you so stressed?”
- “Just relax”.
This kind of feedback or advice, is never helpful and can add insult to injury for those affected by anxiety. I therefore do not want to feed you with the same nonsense. I know that those with anxiety, are people with good intentions and are trying to keep strong and prepared. Many intelligent people fall under this category, and often others cannot even imagine to the same amount of depth as you can. Therefore, this leads to false advice being shared and more feelings of being misunderstood by those affected. Often, people with anxiety have had to endure a lot traumatic experiences and have had to stay strong for too long without moral support.
I myself have suffered from this in social situations in the past. The experience can feel debilitating and I would often find myself repeating cycles of overthinking and having to plan conversations in my head.
Eventually I got fed up of living like this and make steps to change my lifestyle and diet to reduce the anxiety.
The methods below are what I have tried before, nevertheless I am aware that this should be done in addition to therapy:
- Pursuing a hobby.
- Exercising or being active.
- Removing judgements or “should” statements from your mind.
- Minimise your intake of sugar (bacteria from your gut also contributes to mental health).
- Drink lemon and ginger tea.
- Give yourself SMART (small, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-orientated) goals in life.
- Make time in your week for socialising with friends and family.
- Sleep well (at least 8 hours), keeping distance from technological devices at night.
- Cold showers.
These actions have minimised the symptoms of my stress and anxiety. If you try these things and you still feel anxious then I recommend that you seek help from a mental health professional.
Keep calm and carry on folks.