In the aftermath of the recent harrowing terrorist attack in Manchester (and other similar episodes across Europe) it is natural for people to feel anxious as they go about their daily business in a big city and while anxiety can be a motivating factor to propel us into action, an anxiety disorder is much more intense and can be physically debilitating, while severely hampering our ability to function on a daily basis. Anxiety disorders affect tens of thousands of people throughout the UK and can cause panic attacks, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and lead to awkwardness in casual settings (social anxiety).
I used to be utterly tormented by social anxiety, feeling out of place and occasionally frozen in my ability to create a spontaneous conversation. Consequently I became even more self-conscious and avoided social gatherings. Thus, I self-medicated with mood altering drugs (alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana), which actually perpetuated my anxiety. Social anxiety can be so intense that it can lead to social anorexia, meaning that a person literally starves themselves of having a social life of any sort. According to Anxiety UK, "Social phobia can also be classed as 'specific social phobia,' such as when there is social phobia only in specific situations like public speaking. The fear of behaving in an embarrassing or humiliating way can lead to a complete withdrawal from social contact, as well as avoidance of specific social situations such as public toilets, eating out etc. The physical manifestations of this phobia include blushing, shaking and sweating etc."
Anxiety disorders often accompany eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and other mental illnesses such as bi-polar and addictive behaviours (alcohol addiction, pornography addiction). However, the medical profession have accepted that anxiety disorders can be genetic. A person is five times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder if a parent has experienced the same condition. Anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and can be heightened while using caffeine or withdrawing from alcohol and/or powerful mind altering substances. Many people report being riddled with anxiety while flying, driving and before an academic exam.
Anxiety disorders can create utter misery in the workplace and more often than not the person experiencing this will literally "suffer in silence" rather than asking for the necessary help and support. According to Chloe Brotheridge, an expert on anxiety and author of "The Anxiety Solution", "Most of us will openly admit to feeling some anxiety at work. Most of us assume that it's just part of the job, but for some of us, it's a bit more serious than that. Anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it haunts people's working lives, limits their career aspirations or cuts their career short."
Young people are reporting much more frequently that anxiety is having a detrimental effect on their emotional and mental well-being. The aforementioned Anxiety UK charity reports, "Even some of the most confident people you know may have suffered with anxiety. Recent research suggests that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives, this means that up to five people in your class may be living with anxiety, whether that be OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), social anxiety and shyness, exam stress, worry or panic attacks."
Having awareness with regard to the different anxiety categories can be a relief for many people who have suffered with this but one of the most effective (and counterintuitive) ways to mitigate this often distressing condition is to attempt to make peace with it. Personally, I did not want to go down the medication route. Firstly, I have an addictive personality (I am in long-term recovery for drug and alcohol addiction) and secondly, I only use prescribed medicine if it is absolutely necessary. Of course it is imperative that anyone who has sought help for an anxiety disorder follow their doctor's advice. The NHS suggests, "Going on a self-help course, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink", and additionally I have found mindfulness and yoga meditation techniques to be very helpful.
Many people have reported a similar experience and the medical field is encouraging patients to practise mindfulness regularly to reduce levels of anxiety. Below are some techniques that have worked for me and many others:
• Practising mindfulness meditation every morning for at least twenty minutes (before being distracted by work/news/social media)
• Regularly taking long deep breaths throughout the day
• Applying oneself to alternate breathing (pranayama yoga breathing)
• Rather than dissociating and attempting to suppress anxious feelings (numbing out), be present and feel the anxious emotions thoroughly. The paradox is that we transcend anxiety (and stress) when we pause and allow ourselves to feel our emotions fully in the body. The uncomfortable and sometimes distressing physical manifestations of the anxiety will then subside and calmness will return
• Regular mindful walking (with no distractions such as mobile phone) and yoga stretches
Christopher Dines' new book, "The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours", co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.