As (hopefully) most of you know mental health is one of the pillars of Primordial Radio. So while we talk about mental health as much as possible all year round you might be wondering why we are bothering with Mental Health Awareness Week? Well this week is significant because the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has really highlighted how many people are struggling with their mental health.
We wanted to show our support for the Mental Health Foundation by joining their campaign to start conversations about mental health, challenge stigma and encourage people to talk about their mental health, support others and not be ashamed to ask for help. Each year, for the last 23 years, they have chosen a theme for the week. This year’s theme is anxiety.
Lots of things can contribute to anxiety but the cost-of-living crisis has led to an increase in anxiety about financial concerns. A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation about stress, anxiety and hopelessness over personal finances found that a quarter of adults said they felt so anxious that it stopped them doing the things they want to do some or all of the time.
“Our findings are a warning sign of the mental health consequences of the cost-of-living crisis. We must protect public services and benefits at this crucial time. If people are struggling to meet their essential needs for a warm home and enough healthy food for their families, we can expect a significant rise in mental health problems as the burden of financial strain continues to take its toll.” Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of Mental Health Foundation
This Mental Health Awareness Week they want to raise awareness and further understanding of anxiety and with the help of Manchester Mind, we have gathered some information about what anxiety is and how to manage it. We’ve broken this down into three areas, What is Anxiety, Managing Anxiety and Tips to relieve Anxiety below.
Please get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week to help spread the word using hashtags #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek #ToHelpMyAnxiety
You can access lots of resources on the Mental Health Foundation’s website
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response to stressful situations. It is normal to feel some anxiety when you’re in a high-pressure situation like an exam, job interview or doctor’s appointment.
The ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response
When we’re stressed or anxious, like all animals, human bodies have evolved to react in certain ways to help protect us from danger. When we feel threatened our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which:
- Make us feel more alert, to speed up our reactions
- Make our hearts beat faster to quickly send blood where we need it most
When we feel the threat has passed our bodies release other hormones to help our muscles relax. This can sometimes cause us to shake.
This is commonly called the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response- it’s something that happens to our bodies automatically, and we have no control over it.
When does anxiety become a problem?
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. Anxiety becomes a problem when:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy
You might be diagnosed with anxiety disorder if your symptoms fit certain medical criteria. But anyone can experience anxiety without a medical diagnosis. Read some suggestions on ways you can help ease symptoms. You can also find out how to manage stress and burnout.
The last few years have been incredibly anxiety provoking with the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis. Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it begins to impact our ability to live our lives as fully as we want to. However, feeling some anxiety is normal, especially when we’re in a high-pressure situation. So, how do we manage anxiety?
Take control of what you can
When it comes to worries, we can often focus on things that we have little influence over, which only serves to make anxiety worse. It can be worth writing down what the causes of your anxiety are, and one by one, look at what is in your control for each of those worries, and writing down what action you can take. It is not always easy to do this when you are feeling overwhelmed, so perhaps enlist a friend to help, offering to help with theirs in return. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking yourself “can I do anything about this right now?” if the answer is no, then it is important to find a distraction to take your mind off your worry for a while.
Taking in the good
We as human beings tend to focus on the negatives but increasing our daily diet of positive emotions can help counter anxiety and improve our wellbeing. This doesn’t mean seeking out only pleasurable activities and ignoring negative emotions, it just means keeping a balanced mindset. One of the ways we can do this is by keeping a positive or grateful diary to encourage our brains to be more balanced. Another way we can encourage more positivity is by staying with the good. Often, when good things happen to us, we allow the emotions to wash over us rather than lingering on the experience. By staying with the good, our brain’s neurons fire up, and start to ‘wire’ that experience into our brain countering negative anxious thoughts.
Get it off your chest and connect with others
Nothing feeds stress and anxiety more than bottling it up and feeling alone with it all. Talking to someone will not get rid of the sources of your anxiety, but it might give you a bit of perspective and hopefully if you feel less alone, you will also feel more able to face your challenges.
Prioritise good sleep
Worries and stresses can keep us awake at night, but poor sleep leads to low mood and difficulty focusing and thinking. Do what you can to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep. Give yourself a good sleep window, avoid alcohol and electronic devices before bed and get some natural light early in the day to reset the body’s natural rhythms. Find out more about how to improve your sleep.
Tips to Relieve Anxiety
We can feel anxiety in different ways. Sometimes we experience mental worries or racing thoughts, but we can also feel anxiety physically. This is often referred to as the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response when our body’s nervous system feels it’s under threat.
We cannot eliminate anxiety in our lives altogether, but we can do some things to help us cope. It’s not a one-size-fits all when it comes to managing anxiety but why not try some of these tips?
- Grounding meditation: Bellybreathing alone is a great way to calm our anxious body but alongside it you can try listing one thing you can see, touch, hear, smell and taste to ground yourself. This can help calm the racing mind, which can often get very carried away on its own.
- Body awareness: Repeating phrases can calm ourselves down when we’re experiencing high levels of anxiety. Some useful phrases might include: “I’m sitting on the chair, I’m safe. My heart is still beating, my body’s still breathing. I’m reasonably okay.”
- Get out in nature: Nature can be very calming, lowering blood pressure and lifting our mood. If you have not got any green space close by even looking at a calming natural scene such as a photo, or perhaps a gentle nature documentary might do the trick.
- Look after your physical health: Making sure our bodies are physically healthy can help our mental health follow. Keeping yourself physically healthy to reduce anxiety includes getting enough sleep, thinking about your diet and trying to do some physical activity. All of which can help stabilise your mood and improve wellbeing.
- Talk to someone you trust: Talking to someone about your worries can help you feel less alone. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to someone close to you, the Samaritans and Anxiety UK both run helplines that you can call to talk to someone.