Everyone will have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. Remember that feeling of unease, worry or fear before a job interview, your driving test, or waiting for medical results?
Those feelings that makes your heart beat a little faster, your palms sweat more or your stomach flutter with butterflies are perfectly normal and our body’s instinctive ‘fight or flight’ response to difficult, important or threatening situations.
But having all faced an unprecedented global health crisis this year with the coronavirus pandemic, anxiety has been ever more commonplace as we’ve been forced to spring into survival mode to battle the fear of an invisible threat in the air we breathe.
Add to that a lot of time spent at home cocooned in our safety bubbles, keeping a distance from others, worrying about your health, grief, job losses and financial worries, no support with childcare, and missed milestones or celebrations, then people are bound to have felt more on edge, stressed or overwhelmed by these strong emotions.
As a nation we have gone through huge change in such a short space of time, with ‘normal life’ unrecognisable from what it was at the beginning of the year.
It was difficult to adjust to the imposed lockdown, but now that restrictions have eased and we start to reintegrate into this changed society, anxieties may become heightened again in both those who live with anxiety disorders or people who may be experiencing anxiety for the first time.
Anxiety takes on various forms. This may be in social situations, worries about health, separation anxiety, or GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) which is feelings of unease with apparent cause or reason.
We all react differently to stressful situations and for most these feelings will pass. But when anxiety becomes persistent it can affect both your physical and mental health and disrupt daily function in various ways.
The relationship between sleep and anxiety is a vicious circle; a catch-22 situation where you can’t sleep because your worries or fears are keeping you awake, and sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety disorders.
If you are anxious, you may experience poor sleep quality as your brain struggles to shut off. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is important to ensure you are well-rested.
This includes having a regular bedtime and wake-up time, keeping the temperature of your bedroom comfortably cool, and minimising distractions such as TV or mobile phone usage before bed.
Avoid stressful situations before bed – leave the news, paying a bill, checking work emails, or sending that frustrated text until the morning. Write down any to-dos so your brain isn’t in overdrive mode during the night.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) chronically affects more than one in five of us, causing abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
In 60 percent of those with IBS, it is triggered by stress and anxiety, yet they may never have sought treatment or are unaware of the connection.
During periods of anxiety, the connection between the gut and brain is lowered. To overcome stress, the brain needs excess energy which is diverted away from the gut, meaning the digestive system suffers.
Central Nervous System
Long-term anxiety causes your brain to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol more regularly, increasing the frequency of headaches, dizziness and depression.
The stress hormone cortisol attempts to reduce inflammation by weakening some of the antibodies that can increase inflammation.
If you have persistent anxiety, overtime cortisol continues to supress these and your immune system may be weakened meaning you are more likely to become ill with longer recovery times.
Prolonged periods of anxiety can lead to a rapid heart rate, palpitations and chest pain. Your blood pressure can also increase, leaving you more likely to develop heart disease.
During bouts of anxiety, breathing may become shallow and rapid to enable more oxygen to reach your lungs. However, those with chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD may find their condition worsens.
If you are feeling anxious, it is important to take care of your body by eating a healthy balanced diet, taking regular exercise, particularly outdoors, and limiting your alcohol consumption.
To help you stay in control and reduce feelings of unease, you could try a natural remedy such as Bach Original Flower or Rescue remedies. These essence drops can be added to drinks or put under your tongue, and Rescue Remedy also comes in pastille, spray and cream form.
Try also and focus on the present and things you can control. Practicing mindfulness and breathing techniques may help shift your mind’s concentration.
Be sure to connect with others where you can and talk about your worries so those close to you can have a better understanding of how you feel. You may find talking openly helps others reach out to you in their own times of need.