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Mental Health Awareness Week: Supporting others with feelings of anxiety

May 15, 2023

This week - the 15th to the 21st May - is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although in recent years, the public has gained a better understanding of mental health, unfortunately there’s still a certain level of stigma surrounding mental illness. That’s why Mental Health Awareness Week is so important; it starts necessary conversations around mental health and educates people about psychological conditions. The more that these conversations happen, the more normal talking about our mental health will become, which means that less people will feel compelled to suffer in silence.

This year, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen the theme ‘Anxiety’. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, with one in ten people in the UK living with an anxiety condition at any one time (that’s over 8 million people). With this number in mind, the chances are that we all know someone who’s been affected. Supporting a person with anxiety can be difficult and you might worry about saying the wrong thing. So, it can be helpful to learn more about anxiety to give you a better understanding of how the other person could be feeling and figure out how to best approach the situation.

To find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can get involved, check out Mental Health Foundation’s website.

What is anxiety?

The NHS describes anxiety as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.”

We all experience anxiety every now and then, especially when we’re faced with a stressful situation, like an exam or a job interview. These feelings are the body’s natural fight or flight response which kicks in when we encounter a potential threat; your body gets ready to respond to or run away from danger.

However, anxiety becomes a problem when we’re unable to control our worries and we live in fear of something bad happening. This can affect our day-to-day lives and influence our behaviour, causing us to withdraw from people or go to excessive lengths to avoid our triggers. Plus, in some cases, a buildup of anxiety can lead to anxiety attacks.

There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders, from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) to social anxiety, agoraphobia and more. And sometimes, anxiety can be the result of another mental health condition. Our mental health is unique to us, and anxiety manifests itself differently from person to person in the form of emotional and physical symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying
  • Feeling nervous, tense and restless
  • Feeling easily irritated
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Fearing the worst case scenario
  • Needing reassurance from others

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling tired or lethargic
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Digestive issues
  • Feeling nauseous
  • A dry mouth
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Shaking or trembling

Behavioural symptoms may include:

  • Withdrawing from people
  • Avoiding the things that make you nervous
  • Struggling with work
  • No longer doing the things that you usually enjoy
  • Using substances as a coping mechanism
  • Seeking reassurance from others but only experiencing temporary relief

How to support someone with anxiety

1. Learn about anxiety

One of the best things you can do when supporting someone with an anxiety disorder is learning about their condition and the symptoms they may experience. This will help you to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they may be going through. There are lots of articles on the ieso website about a variety of anxiety disorders, including accounts of other people’s experiences.

2. Validate their feelings

Sometimes when people are experiencing anxiety, their fears may seem irrational and their worries out of proportion. Rather than minimising their feelings or saying things like “I don’t understand why you’re worrying about that”, approach the conversation patiently without judgement. Let them know that it’s okay to feel how they feel and allow them to talk it out.

3. Ask how you can help

If you’re unsure how to help a person who’s experiencing anxiety, ask them how they would like to be supported. Perhaps you could go for a walk in the fresh air or practice breathing exercises together. If they’re not sure how you can help, you may want to check in with them regularly just to let them know that you’re there if they need you.

4. Support them if they need professional help

If you can see that a person’s anxiety is worsening or having a negative impact on their life, you could encourage them to seek professional help through their GP or a therapist. Offer to attend a medical appointment with them or help them to research the different ways that they can access treatment. ieso offers online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is used to treat anxiety by challenging negative thought patterns and learning coping strategies. You can find out more on our website.

5. Look after your own mental health

Supporting someone with anxiety can be challenging and it’s important to take care of your own mental health, too. Be sure to set boundaries so that you don’t take on more than you can manage and end up wearing yourself out, emotionally or physically. If possible, it’s a good idea to share your caring role with others so that the person who’s struggling has other people to rely on, who you are also able to talk to about the situation.

For more information about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or resources about anxiety, visit ieso’s website.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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