CBT for Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural human response to the perception of a threat. Anxiety manifests itself in many different ways, including through our thoughts and feelings as well as through physical sensations. If you suffer from anxiety, you will be experiencing regular and exaggerated worries about a number of different things in your everyday life. While with a phobia or panic disorder you can usually identify specific triggers for your symptoms, with anxiety it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what is causing the anxiety.

Worrying is a normal part of human experience and occurs for a lot of people in day-to-day life. However, if worrying is impacting your ability to live your life as you want to, it might be time to seek help.

Symptoms of anxiety

It's common to experience anxiety and worry when dealing with stressful events or changes, particularly if they could have a big impact on your life. However, if you are anvious to the extent that your every day life is affected, you are likely to be suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is charactersied by worries about things like health, money, family, work or school dominating your thinking and being out of proportion with the situation.

As there are lots of possible symptoms associated with anxiety, your symptoms may differ from those experienced by other people. The list below sets out some common symptoms, but you may experience different emotions and physical effects.

  • Physical
    • Pins and needles
    • Shallow breathing
    • Feeling restless
    • Panic attacks
    • Feeling sick or dizzy
    • Fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
    • Problems sleeping
    • Sweating and hot flushes
    • Fatigue or exhaustion
    • Muscle tension
  • Cognitive
    • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Worrying about anxiety itself (worrying that you are worrying too much)
  • Emotional
    • Feeling like you are losing touch with reality
    • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
    • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Behavioural
    • Avoiding everyday situations that are perceived as a threat
    • Not being able to enjoy leisure time
    • Being irritable

Causes of anxiety

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes anxiety problems, but there are lots of possible triggers. These include past or childhood experiences as well as current life situations.

Factors that trigger anxiety include:
  • A family history of anxiety
  • Prolonged exposure to a stressful situation
  • Exhaustion
  • Bullying, harassment or abuse
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Homelessness or housing problems

How to look after yourself when living with anxiety

There are many steps you can take that may help you to manage and reduce your anxiety. The first step is acknowledging your worries.

It will be difficult to stop worrying when you have anxiety – there may be worries you feel as if you can’t control, situations you are worried about that are out of your control, or you might feel like you need to continue worrying because it feels useful, or that bad things will happen if you stop.

However, there are ways to try and address these worries. These might include keeping a diary of worries to enable you to visually see and understand them. You can also postpone thinking about a worry when it presents itself to a specific "worry time" of your choosing, as this can help you feel that you are in control of your worries and can reassure you that you haven't forgotten to think about them. Talking things through with a person you trust might relieve your worries too. It may be that just having someone there to listen to you and show they care enough to understand your worries can help.

Looking after your physical health is essential to managing anxiety. Three key factors are ensuring you get enough sleep, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity if you are able to.

Breathing exercises are also a beneficial way of managing anxiety and worries and can help you to cope and enhance your ability to feel more in control. They may also help with some of the physical symptoms such as headaches and muscle tension.

How to support a loved one experiencing anxiety

It can be difficult to know how best to help a friend or family member who is experiencing episodes of anxiety. There are, however, some things that you can do:

  • Support

    One of the things we tend to do when we see our loved ones suffering is help them to avoid the situations they find scary. For example, if your loved one is particularly worried about driving on a motorway, you might try and help them take a different route when travelling with them so they avoid the motorway. While this will help them feel less anxious in the short-term, it can help maintain their anxiety. While it is important that you do not force anyone into an uncomfortable situation before they are ready, being aware of how you might be inadvertently helping them maintain their anxiety, can be useful.

  • When in doubt, ask

    Anxiety is a very varied disorder that manifests in very different ways depending on the person. No two people suffering from anxiety will have exactly the same symptoms. It can be really helpful to find out as much as possible about your loved one's personal experience of anxiety, how it affects their life and if there is anything in particular that they would find helpful. If you are respectful and understanding about the situation and make sure they are comfortable talking to you about it, you might be surprised by the number of small things you can do that will have a positive impact on their anxiety.

  • Be patient and understanding

    Quite often, someone suffering from anxiety won’t be able to fully explain what is wrong, or why they are feeling the way they do. It’s incredibly important to be patient with someone who is dealing with anxiety and to take things at whatever pace is comfortable for them. Take the time to sit and talk calmly with them, and reassure them instead of dismissing their anxiety episode. This can go a huge way to relieving someone’s symptoms. Remember that someone with anxiety is often unable to control their worries, and it isn’t just a case of ‘snapping out of it’.

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