In partnership with Guernsey Mind
We all feel anxious at times. It’s a natural response to stressful situations. Whether it's exam stress, financial worries, relationship issues, social pressures or work challenges...Who hasn’t felt anxious when dealing with these types of life experiences?
It’s the body’s natural way of heightening our senses and alerting us to danger. Not so very long ago that danger would have shown up as a physical threat - a wild animal waiting to pounce! - and anxiety was an early warning system that kept us on our toes and ultimately kept us alive.
Nowadays we’re unlikely to be attacked by a wild animal, but the pressures we face in today's society are still very real, and in recent times anxiety has become one of the most talked about topics in mental health.
The short answer is each and every one of us can, and will, experience some level of anxiety in our lifetime, and as we deal with the fallout from the pandemic and the effects of the cost of living crisis on mental health, levels of anxiety are on the rise.
In March 2023 the Mental Health Foundation did a survey over a two week period on anxiety, its causes and how we cope with it. The results are staggering, with 73% of the population feeling anxious some of the time and one in five people feeling anxious most or all of the time.
Some groups of people are more likely to be affected by anxiety than others. The survey showed that 86% of young people (aged 18 to 24), had been feeling anxious, and over half them had stopped doing everyday activities because of it.
Other groups affected were:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey showed that anxiety levels increased throughout the pandemic and have not yet dropped to pre-pandemic levels. This is also the case here in the Bailiwick. A local survey, looking at how the wellbeing of our community has changed post pandemic, shows that the most negatively impacted factor was anxiety and/or stress levels, with 50% of respondents reporting that had become worse.
We all experience anxiety in different ways and it’s important to note that the feelings and physical reactions that come with anxiety can be a good thing - if they’re in proportion to the perceived threat. A bit of anxiety makes us feel more alert and focused, sharpening our senses so that we can act faster. It can motivate us to solve problems quicker and make us more aware of risks. But it becomes a problem when anxiety stops you living your life as fully as you want to and you find it difficult to do the things you used to enjoy.
Here are some of the signs that your anxiety is having a negative impact on your mental health, as identified by Mind:
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to help manage feelings of anxiety. What works for one person may not work for another but the Mental Health Foundation has nine evidence based suggestions to help you cope and help stop your anxiety spiralling out of control.
Interrupt anxious thoughts with the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose, counting to four in your head. Hold your breath and count to seven, then breathe out through your mouth, making a whoosh sound while counting to eight. Repeat this cycle four times.
Exercise is a tried and tested way of dealing with anxiety and it can be as vigorous or gentle as you like. It’s about whatever works best for you, whether that’s stretching, walking, sea swimming or going to the gym. Any amount of exercise can help.
Ignoring your worries can make things worse, so try to understand what’s causing your anxiety by journaling or keeping a diary to help you prepare for, and hopefully manage, triggering situations. Sometimes writing things down can help you to take control. Get into the habit of journaling for 20 minutes first thing, making this your ’worry time’. then you can try to move on with your day
Anxiety can lead you to ‘ruminate’, meaning you think about things over and over again - and it’s not helpful. If you find yourself falling into this cycle, try to challenge these thoughts. Is what you’re worrying about really likely to happen? Are you being realistic? Pausing your thought cycle to challenge the thoughts can sometimes stop them from overwhelming you
Finances are a common cause of anxiety. If you’re worried about not being able to pay bills or you’re struggling to repay debt, it’s important to know that help is available. Financial wellness is a form of self care that is often ignored but practical support is available through free and confidential appointments with trained Money Advisers at Citizens Advice Guernsey.
We all know that spending time in nature has a positive impact on our mental health, helping us to feel calmer and less anxious. Any amount of time doing this is good for us, but to really benefit, try to spend a significant period of time - maybe an hour or so - immersing yourself and really connecting with nature here on our beautiful island.
Anxiety can feel very lonely, so connecting with people and talking about how you feel, if you are able to, can really help. Make time to come together with your family for dinner, catch up with a friend for coffee or chat with someone new. If you feel comfortable to do so, talk about your anxieties. Sometimes saying what’s worrying you out loud can take away its power over you.
Sleep doesn’t always come easy when your head is full of worries, but there are some simple steps you can take to improve your evening routine and enjoy a more restful night. Set yourself up for a good night with these tips on How To Prepare For A Good Night’s Sleep.
When you’re feeling anxious it’s all too easy to reach for junk food or alcohol, but we all know that these short term coping mechanisms can make things worse in the long run. Find out more about how your diet is linked to good mental health here and if you are worried about alcohol becoming a crutch to help with your feelings of anxiety, here’s How To Recognise If You're Drinking Too Much... And What You Can Do About It.
Another very important point to highlight is that stigma and shame play a part in how people deal with their anxiety. Nearly half of the people who took part in the MHF survey said that they were keeping their anxiety secret. It doesn’t have to be that way! Sometimes reaching out is the hardest part but mental health support is available to you.
If you feel you need professional help to deal with feelings of overwhelm or anxiety, reach out to your GP or get in touch with Guernsey Mind. The team can direct you to services you can access locally to support your mental wellbeing.