(Mental Health Awareness Week 2023)

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from Monday 15 – Sunday 21 May 2023 and this year the official theme set by the Mental Health Foundation is ‘anxiety’.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone has probably experienced at some point in their lives – for instance, when preparing for an exam, starting a new job or giving a speech in public. However, some people experience more frequent and intense levels of anxiety (an anxiety disorder) and the impact of this on their daily lives can become a problem.

Today, we’re looking at what anxiety means and some practices that can help you manage it better.

What is anxiety?

Although anxiety is a common topic in the field of mental health, among the general public it is still often misunderstood. Mention anxiety and many people will think it’s just someone feeling a bit stressed or worrying about nothing.

The reality is that anxiety is a natural human response to stress or perceived danger. Including feelings of unease, worry, fear and apprehension, anxiety is part of our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response and this is important in ensuring we’re able to react quickly when faced with threats.

Problems arise when feelings of anxiety are experienced over a long period of time and become overwhelming, producing symptoms when there is no obvious or immediate threat and stopping sufferers from doing things they want or need to do.

How common is anxiety?

Studies show that anxiety in the UK population increased during the pandemic and this has not yet dropped to the pre-pandemic levels. The rising cost of living is adding to the problem with the most commonly reported cause of anxiety now related to issues around paying bills. (Mental Health Foundation)

It is also thought that over 8 million people in the UK (1 in 10 of us) are affected by serious anxiety disorders. This includes a range of conditions such as Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), Phobias and Separation anxiety. Other common anxiety themes include agoraphobia (the fear of public spaces) and health anxiety which makes us anxious about changes to our health or associated issues.

Even among the population that are not experiencing anxiety as a disorder, anxious feelings are still high. A study of 6000 adults by the Mental Health foundation found that nearly three-quarters of the population (73%) had felt anxious at least sometimes in the previous two weeks, with one in five people (20%) feeling anxious most or all of the time.

Nearly half of the people in the research (45%) were keeping their anxiety secret and almost a third (30%) said they were not coping well with their anxiety,

Coping better with anxiety better

Anxiety can lead to all kinds of distressing symptoms, including poor sleep quality, irritability, headaches, stomach issues and a constant sense of dread. In moments when the physical and emotional reaction to anxiety become most intense, sufferers report things like having a racing heartbeat, feeling sick and experiencing light-headedness.

Whilst this may seem like a lot to overcome, the good news is there are many things we can do to manage anxiety better.

For improving anxiety over the long-term, lifestyle changes top the list. Taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, spending time in nature, finding ways to connect with other people and learning how to challenge your negative thoughts are all recommended. Find out more in this useful booklet from the Mental health Foundation.

To cope better with intense moments of anxiety, there are several practices you can try. Mental Health UK have come up with a set of five-minute techniques, each of which can be repeated as often as proves helpful. This includes Distraction Techniques like drinking cold water or colouring; The 333 Rule which is designed to help you observe your surroundings better and take the focus away from your anxiety (similar to mindfulness) and a Box Breathing technique. Find out more about all of these approaches here.

Further information and support

If your feelings of anxiety are not going away, are having a negative impact on your life, or are preventing you from doing things you need or want to do, seek support. 

Speak to your GP or healthcare professional 

Contact a helpline service

Visit the Mental Health Foundation website

Visit the Mental Health UK website


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