Wednesday, 14 May 2014

#MHAW2014 - Tackling Anxiety

As some of you may already know, this week is  Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus this year is on Anxiety. This is a subject close to my heart, and the hearts of many of my friends and fellow bloggers. So what better time to write a post about it?

I've recently become more and more aware of people discussing their experiences with anxiety. I don't know if it's because I started blogging (us creatives seem to be particularly affected by anxiety, as more and more bloggers seem to be discussing the issue openly)  or if people are becoming more comfortable about talking about it in general. One year ago, I probably would have barely heard about it, but now it's flitting up on my twitter feed daily. Thankfully, awareness seems to be increasing.

Anxiety is a complicated issue which manifests itself on many levels, and in different ways. Worrying occasionally, and having a certain, low-lying level of anxiety is normal. Without it, to a certain extent, we wouldn't be motivated at all. It allows us to feel the need to get things done, and is almost all mixed up with natural instincts and 'Fight or Flight'. Unfortunately for many, however, anxiety can be at such a great level that it affects them on a daily basis; constant worrying, fear and anxiousness, often without an obvious cause, can be debilitating and can have a serious affect on physical and mental health, sometimes paving the way for further problems such as depression.

Sadly, it's the most common mental health issue in society today. Adolescents and young adults are suffering from it more and more. In my eyes, it's clear that the modern way of living has had a huge effect on this. For my generation at least, keeping up with expectations, dealing with new pressures, employment (or lack of) and evolving technology can all add pressure to our lives. There is constant pressure from all sorts of sources; and I believe Social Media has a lot to answer for.

It can, in some cases, eventually cause a break down of relationships, physical health, concentration, positivity and confidence. I suppose you could say that it starts to take away the essence of a person, as any mental health issue can, and many start to feel defined by their anxiety. Which just isn't fair.

There's a lot more to it, of course, but it would be hard to cover it all in one blog post and I'm cautious that I don't want to go on for too long. This isn't a Wikipedia page, or NHS advice column, after all.

In order to express how important this topic is to me, I feel it's necessary at least mention that I have had, and continue to have, some experiences with anxiety. I'm not keen on going into much detail though - I want to keep this side of my life private for the time being. However, I do want to say that it's close to my heart and I devour any information about it that I can get my hands on it. 'Know your enemies' they that's what I plan to do.

This post is simply aimed at opening up the topic for consideration or discussion; it's to hopefully start off a little insight into anxiety, its importance and place in society today. I want you to be aware of it, and the possible effects it has on your nearest and dearest, and - potentially - on yourself.

So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, I just want to simply highlight the importance of understanding anxiety and respecting the situations of those affected by it, however chronic or mild. It's a real thing; not just a little worrying here or there. It can be all consuming - whatever form it takes; whether it's Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, OCD or any other type or classification.

I recently stumbled across an article on The National Student documenting some of the harsh and unfair comments received by anxiety sufferers. It's sad, but true. 'Pull yourself together', 'It's not a real issue', 'You're just looking for attention' are not acceptable responses to anxiety, and neither are any of the ones featured int he above article.  Anxiety isn't something you can just 'stop' having, or switch off. It's not something that can be cured by a cup of tea, or a hug (though they certainly help momentarily). It is, in my eyes, an issue that is very hard to understand unless you yourself have experiences of it on any level, or know of someone who does. It's hard to explain, and can be even harder to deal with when you have nobody to talk to about it.

The great news is there is so much out there to make life easier. Simple lifestyle changes such as exercise (Yoga and Pilates in particular), a good diet and relaxation exercises (never underestimate meditation) won't necessarily get rid of anxiety, but they can make it slightly easier to live with, even just for a moment.  I'm currently reading Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman (which I will hopefully review here) and it's already opening my eyes to so many solutions. I'm not saying these are magic cures, but they certainly helps to calm and relax you.

Talking to a good friend or family member can be a huge release too, as hard as that may be. If things are getting difficult or if it's starting to take a toll on areas of your life, there's always the option of visiting your GP, where discussions of medication and therapy options can lead to improvement and a whole new lease of life. It may be intimidating, but it could change your life. It doesn't hurt to get to the bottom of things too; keeping a diary or educating yourself about your problems can get you thinking about how you react to situations and what you can do to help yourself (or others around you who may be struggling).

I don't consider myself anywhere near being an expert, and am wary of getting too personal. I can't stress enough, though,  how important it is not to feel alone. Just typing anxiety into Google can bring up a whole host of sites, posts and advice forums. There is always someone to talk to.

And here's the proof; many of my favourite bloggers have written about their personal experiences with anxiety:

And here are some other sources you might find helpful:

I know that this hasn't been the most in depth post in the world, and I hope you'll forgive me especially if you've found it dull, rambling or somewhat pointless, but I hope at least it has been interesting, informative or thought provoking. Perhaps you even feel a little less alone, or maybe you had no idea what Mental Health Awareness Week was.

For now, though, if you suffer from anxiety, or perhaps think you do, no matter how much; be kind to yourself, don't be scared to get help, and try to educate yourself as much as possible. If you know someone who may be struggling; remember, they can't just 'cheer up' or 'snap out of it'. Just be there, lend an ear, and be as understanding as possible. You might just make someone's life a little less fraught.


  1. It's funny but before blogging and entering into this wonderful community I never realised that I had anxiety. I didn't realise that the way I sometimes feel is a thing and has a name. I only have it mildly but it's definitely there and I'm so glad blogging has made me aware if it so I can try and deal with it :)

    Chloe x

  2. I feel like there's suddenly been an outburst of discussion on mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in young people, and it's really great. Like Chloe my issue is mild but the main thing for me is that it leads heavily to comparison with others who appear to have no anxiety whatsoever. A friend actually described me as 'confident' the other day and I just thought wow, if I put on a good act then maybe more people have these kinds of issues than we think.

    If I'm honest, my main way of dealing with it is just having a calm down and then a 'get out there and get on with it' attitude. This is very similar to the 'pull yourself together' comments you mention, which just goes to show how personal these things are doesn't it? What might be a great thing to say to one person is the absolute worst to say to another! My mum is a great fan of mediation CDs and books haha she literally swears by them!

    Imogen x

  3. I did not find this dull at all. I found it heartfelt, honest, informative and most of all helpful. I find that when I'm stressed my anxiety goes through the roof. I've learned through time that taking a step back and breathing can really help.

  4. It's great that people are more comfortable talking about mental health especially anxiety. I was recently told by my doctor that I may have anxiety (they're refusing to completely diagnose me just yet) and it's a bit of a weird thing to think about. I have a bit of a brutal attitude towards my own potential anxiety which is definitely not something everyone has and something I wouldn't voice to anyone who is dealing with anxiety. It's a delicate subject and something I hope everyone will eventually view as more than just "attention seeking".

    Raise The Waves

  5. This post is amazing. I suffer from OCD and anxiety and when I try to explain to people how I feel they just don't understand. Its so good that there is more and more talk about it so people will understand.
    The NHS do such an amazing job and have helped me so much!

    I hate it when people class it as attention seeking. It's so mean! If they could get in our heads and feel what we do they would never say it again!