Have you noticed feeling any of these things a little bit more often than usual?
- Headaches – or other aches
- Finding your chest a bit tight, as if there’s not enough capacity in your lungs
- Really tight neck and shoulders
- Jumping out of your skin at the slightest provocation
- Suddenly feeling like you’re going to freak out for no particular reason
- Sudden outpourings of grief
- Tightness or churning or sickness in your stomach
- Nightmares that wake you up in a cold sweat
You could be suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety is a mental issue that can affect anyone old enough to understand cause and effect. Even the youngest of children can suffer from anxiety. Within that anxiety there could be periods where many of the symptoms occur at once, and when that happens you are probably experiencing a panic attack.
There’s no single cause. Some people can drift along in life without letting the worst misfortunes affect them long term. Others can find themselves looking into a chasm of darkness at what most people might consider a trivial setback.
It might be that one person’s anxiety has several causes from a build-up of life’s pressures; childhood experience; bereavement; relationship problems; unemployment. Genetics can play a part, or chemical imbalances in the brain.
You could have sailed through your childhood and teenage years, graduated with a first-class honours degree, landed a wonderful job that enabled you to buy the house of your dreams, found the perfect partner – and still find you’re suffering from anxiety.
It’s not so easy to address the root if you’re not sure where to dig, but where there may be a huge variety of causes, the symptoms will often be the same.
Worthing-based Amanda Evans is a fellow of the Federation of Holistic Therapists, and has 18 years’ experience as a holistic practitioner – with 16 of those years including work in care homes for both residents or carers themselves.
“Anxiety can be caused by many different factors but the body reacts to them all in the same way,” she says. “When your mind is anxious your body feels it as a direct threat to its physical safety, therefore kicking in the ‘fight or flight’ response – tiring and exhausting the sufferer even more.”
Much of Amanda’s work involves reflexology, the practice of working with people’s feet and lower legs to target specific areas in the rest of the body.
“Reflexology has a wonderful calming effect on the body by somehow promoting the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system,” she says. “In other words, it calms the body’s response to stress.
“By working the corresponding areas of the feet that relate to over-stimulated stress responses and coupled with some gentle breath work, the client is able to let go of those areas of tension. The reflexologist will often sense and feel areas of imbalance and tension within the feet that may be reacting to or stimulating the anxiety, and as the area is worked the aim is for the anxiety to reduce.
“Common areas to specifically work are the adrenal glands, the stomach, the brain, the bowel, but of course each body part supports the other and it is important to treat the whole of the foot (ie the body) to create a balancing of all the body systems to bring about harmony.”
One of the major advantages of reflexology as a treatment, she says, is that it is non-imposing – as the reflexologist is physically positioned at the ‘foot end’ of the client, distance is maintained and personal space is not invaded.
Just as there are many causes of anxiety, there are many treatments – and it can be stressful enough finding the one that works for you.
The charity Mind gives more detail on the kinds of treatment available, and this is all on its website at mind.org.uk.
The treatments start from self-help – which includes workbooks and computer-based CBT (cognitive behaviourial therapy) programmes, one of which is available on the NHS (Fearfighter).
There are also talking treatments using CBT, and applied relaxation techniques.
Then there is of course medication, which ranges from anti-depressants to beta blockers and tranquillisers – your GP will either know which is the most appropriate, or be able to refer you to someone who does.
Above all, ask for help. It can seem like the black hole you’re in is closing in over you, but there are ways out of it when you learn how to find the light.