An estimated three million people in the UK are battling an anxiety disorder – and it doesn’t always manifest in the ways you might expect.
To mark National Mental Health Week, we asked mind coach Anna Williamson about the symptoms you might not realise are caused by anxiety.
Shortness of breath
‘Anxiety can feel very physical,’ says Anna. ‘In certain stressful situations you might feel breathing is difficult or you may get dizzy. These can be a sign you’re feeling anxious. Get your breathing under control by breathing in slowly through your nose for 7 seconds and out through your month for 11 seconds. Sit down to steady yourself momentarily too.’
According to Anna, doing things compulsively is another symptom that can signify anxiety. ‘Notice if this is something you are doing and gradually challenge the compulsions by not letting it take over,’ she advises. ‘Distract yourself to help ease off the repetitive behaviour and remind yourself that nothing bad will happen if you don’t do whatever it is you feel you need to do.’
‘Feeling more irritable than usual and generally a bit ratty when there’s no obvious cause can be another signifier of anxiety,’ says Anna. ‘If this sounds like you, talk it through with someone you trust, offload your niggles and engage in something which helps you to relax physically and mentally such as a feel good movie or a relaxing, or uplifting song.’
A decreased sex drive
‘Often anxious feelings can block the love hormone oxytocin that makes us feel amorous,’ Anna explains. ‘Take the pressure off having to engage in sex and instead enjoy cuddling and kissing. Physical touching – hand holding and hair stroking, for example, can lower anxious feelings and take the pressure off needing to have sex too.’
Feelings of isolation
‘You may have noticed yourself not wanting to be around people much anymore. Some alone time can be cathartic but too much and you risk being lonely and disconnected from others. It’s important to feel engaged with people you trust and who make you feel comfortable.’
A decreased appetite
Not wanting to eat much, or experiencing problems swallowing, may not seem obviously linked to your anxiety, but Anna says that this can be another symptom. ‘Keep an eye on this, if it continues do see your GP for some help,’ she instructs. ‘Make sure you get enough nutrition; soups, smoothies and meal replacement shakes can help in the short term. Lack of food and water will only exacerbate anxiety.’
Anxiety is often connected with fear; of wanting to do things, see people, and go places. ‘Your safe place can sometimes turn into your “prison”. A healthy balance of going out to places which are as unthreatening for you as possible, such as a quiet pub, and relaxing at home is important, so tell someone you trust that this is how you feel,’ Anna suggests. ‘Ask them to accompany you to something you feel you are able to manage, and take things easily and gradually. Remind yourself you can leave at any time, you have nothing to fear.’
Feel like you’re stuck with thoughts or fear whirling around your head when you should be sleeping? ‘Listen to a mediation app like Headspace to help calm your mind down and distract it from anxious thoughts,’ Anna says. ‘Stay off caffeine and alcohol and prepare for bedtime calmly and in plenty of time.’
Issues in the workplace
Whether it’s problems with your productivity or your attendance, anxiety can manifest itself in the form of a tough time at work too. ‘Talk to your boss and tell them how you’re feeling and if there’s any way they can help support you further,’ encourages Anna. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to allow them to support you.’
‘I’d also suggest trying the Emotional Wellbeing and Workplace Performance Test, which can be used to study the genes associated with emotional wellbeing and positive performance in the workplace, including what your genetic predisposition is to stress, anxiety, low mood and sleep.’
Anna Williamson is a mind coach, TV presenter and brand ambassador for the Emotional Wellbeing DNA Test, £199 at www.dnaplan.co.uk. Get 20% off using the code WELLBEING.