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Health

The Age of Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK, with one in five people reporting they feel anxious a lot or all of the time. By Janet Horwood

Feeling anxious occasionally is perfectly normal, whether it;s before a major family event, a long ditance flight or meeting new people.When you suffer from an anxiety disorder, however, those feeling are far more overwhelmng.- and often hard to talk about or admit to.

"Anxiety becomes a problem when you experuence everyday worries more intensely" says Lucy Lyus, information manager at the mental health charity Mind.

"You may start to worry about things that don't really need to be worried aboutm or quite ordinary worries that become potential catastrophies."

It can lead to panic attacks, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorders and social anxiety, when you feel uncomfortable with other people. believing they are judging you.

There are ohysical symptoms/ "You get headaches or feel breathless, your heart beats fast or irregularly " says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of the chairty Anxiety UK, who has lived with chronic anxiety since her teens.

"You can constantly lok to the future or back at the past. It's difficult to disentangle those extreme thoughts of disaster from ordinary thoughts and often peole just balme themselves and their personality.

Anxiety was our ancestors' normal reaction in the face of danger; this fear triggers a surge of the hormaone adrenaline, so we are ready to flee or fight. An anxiety disorder keeps your bosy in a constant stae of alert...

What can help?

In the past we have often found it hard to talk about mental health roblems, but thanks to inititives such as Mind's Time to Change campaign, the stigma is gradually being erased.If your symptoms are affecting your daily life, rather than struggling, talk to your GP, who will be able to advise you and will normally suggest talking treatments.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Your GP is likely to recommend a talking treatment such as CBT first, unless you have physical symptoms that would respond to medication. CBT is available on the NHS (although there are waiting lists in some areas) and offers six hour-long sessions if your symptoms are mild and yp to 20 for more severe symptoms.

CBT helps you to examin your thoughts and feelings, hhow they make you behave and feel physically. With the therapist you will explore new ways of thinking baout situations. You will have 'homework' between sessions to try out new approaches.

"When we are anxious, we tend to assume the world around us is to blame and of course it plays a part, but ehat CBT tells us is that it is more about how we interpret these things" says CBT therapist Dr Michael Sinclair.

Mindfulness

“Mindfulness trains you to pay attention to what’s going on in the here and now without necessarily getting carried away by your thoughts,” says Jamie Bristow, director of The Mindfulness Project.

There are mindfulness courses as well online courses and apps such as Headspace. Most people start with an eight-week course, two hours once a week.

“You are encouraged to choose one event during the day for a mindful moment – it can be as simple as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, having lunch – when you just bring as much awareness to the task as possible,” says Jamie.

Rather like learning a language or a musical instrument, the benefits are directly related to how much practise you do.

Clinical Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis caan allow you to experience a deep level off relaxation and helps to reduce levels of stress and anxiety. You will probably be asked to vividly imagine something such as ravelling in a car that makes you anxious, and then the therapost will help you to relax so that when faced with the situation again and again you will feel ess fearful. Combined with other theraies such as CBT this can be very effectui

Voices of Experience

Annette Bell: Mindful Meditation

Annette Bell is 67 and lives in the Scottish borders.

"When I married 41 years ago, I knew that my husband Robin was a depressive- his first suicide attempt was before we got married. When you're young, you think you're going to fix the world, but of course,, life isn't like that so I have had 40 or so years of caring for someone with a depressive illness who now has kidney failure and is waiting for dialysis.

"At times anxiety creeps in- and can make you unhappy, jittery and tense. It burns up so much energy. I remeber going to the doctor once- I wasn't sleeping, I was worried and angry. He arranged some counselling sessons, but, for me, the best coping strategy was just to keep going.

“My job as a teaching assistant kept my mind off things, so I tended to put a brave face on it, but at night the thoughts would come and then it was ‘what if?’… ‘what if?”… until it was impossible to sleep. Your mind burns and burns as all these thoughts build and build into an endless train of thoughts. The next day you are more anxious than ever – it is totally exhausting.

“Over the years I tried many self-help things, including a counselling course. The change came in January 2013, when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I knew I had to stay well for all the things that were happening, so I decided to try mindful meditation – and for me it has been the answer.

“It showed me what thoughts are, how to note them and just accept each thought as a single thing. You cannot stop them but you can slow them down and not go with them.

“I started with just ten minutes meditation a day, simply being aware of the breath and coming back to it each time my mind wandered, using the breath as an anchor. I built on that with an eight-week mindfulness course and if you just practise every day, something shifts, it really does.

“You become more aware of things you do every day. It doesn’t have to be anything wondrous. For instance, making a cup of tea; being aware of the sounds of the kettle boiling, the water hitting the tea bag, and the anticipation of drinking it.

“Robin definitely feels the benefit of my different way of being, because I am more compassionate to myself and have a different attitude to life. It has really changed my life. All the things that made me anxious are still there, but for me this is a tool that helps me cope, cultivates resilience and kindness to myself and those around me.”

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