Levels of anxiety have increased more than threefold in the past decade. So why have we become such a nation of worriers?
What have you been worrying about recently? Perhaps a job interview, your child going on their first school trip, or giving birth?
Feeling anxious is a natural human response that occurs when we are under threat, causing us to feel stressed, and often manifesting in physical symptoms such as stomach aches, or a pounding heartbeat.
But sometimes, that worry becomes excessive and overwhelming, making it difficult for us to function day to day.
At the end of last year, 85 per cent of UK GPs reported a rise in the number of patients with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Triggers included work-related problems, feelings of loneliness and relationship strains with friends and family.
Being anxious may be in our genes, or be caused by our environment and our experiences.
But how can we minimise these feelings? Psychotherapist Anna Mathur shares her tools on how to cope…
How you feel: You know that anxious feeling? Your heart thuds, your breath quickens and you get a sick feeling in your stomach.
This is the ‘fight or flight’ response, where your nervous system gets your body ready to do a runner, or to fight the threat. Yet the threat is often emotional, not physical, so you don’t ‘need’ that sudden surge of energy that leaves you feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
How to cope: One of the best tools is deep breathing. Think four, seven, eight. Breathe in deeply for four seconds. Hold for a steady seven counts, and then blow that breath away to the count of eight. Do it until your heart rate slows and your shoulders drop.
How you feel: What do you do without thinking? It might be getting a coffee on the way to work, or scrolling through Instagram when you wake up.
Habits are repeated behaviours that become imprinted in the way we respond to certain triggers, due to the neural pathways they form in our brain. These habits may be fuelling your anxiety.
How to cope: Consider which emotion your habits are trying to manage, whether it’s discomfort, stress, or the fear of being out of control. Now decide how to meet those needs in other ways.
You might change from coffee to a herbal tea, or avoid Instagram accounts that make you feel low. Doing things that benefit you will change your mental responses.
How you feel: Dig deeper into what your anxiety might be telling you. Think of how a prism casts a rainbow of colour from a simple beam of light. We see anxiety, but there are often other feelings that lie behind it. Once you identify what those feelings might be, you are better able to ‘listen’ to them and act on them.
How to cope: Next time you feel anxious, think about what you’re really feeling.
Ask yourself: Do I feel hurt, lonely, hungry, threatened, scared, tired, helpless?
If you identify with one of these feelings, consider how you might meet that need — whether it’s calling a friend, or clearing space in your diary to rest. Becoming more sensitive to your feelings can help.
How you feel: Opening up to the right person is a catalyst for change. Feeling shame keeps us holding secrets out of fear of what people will think or say. It’s not easy speaking those words for the first time, but the more you talk about things, the easier it gets.
How to cope: Find someone who is warm and loving. When we get a positive response, we begin to look at things more objectively. Believing you’re the only one who feels a certain way is isolating, but talking can shine light into new places. Just know you are not alone and things will change.
How you feel: If you had someone following you around all day, criticising everything you did, how would you feel? Sometimes, the way we speak to ourselves emulates this. If you’re being critical, it will affect your sense of worth.
How to cope: Your inner dialogue shapes the way you think, act and behave in almost every situation. It fuels anxiety as you can feel under constant internal scrutiny and criticism.
But you can change this by introducing a kinder voice — talk to yourself how you might talk to a loved one. In time, this kindness will start to replace the critical language.
Edited by Julia Sidwell
Anna can be found at instagram.com/annamathur/