Mental Health

Work through your worries

When you become preoccupied with the challenges in your life, and you feel overwhelmed by feelings of uneasiness, dread and anxiety, you will benefit from expert advice on how to balance your response to worry.   

Anxiety is not an uncommon or unnecessary emotion. Most people experience feelings of disquiet and discomfort when they are stressed about something, like finances, relationships and work, or when they are excited about a first date, a trip or adventure – even the first day at a new job. But while anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, when you don’t process stress in a healthy way, or feel totally overwhelmed for an extended period of time, it might be wise to seek professional help.

When a person feels anxious, they experience cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms:

  • Cognitive: negative or disturbing thoughts
  • Emotional: feeling out of control, overwhelmed, scared
  • Physical: sweating, trembling, shortness of breath

‘Anxiety can help us cope, but for people with an anxiety disorder, this emotion can be disabling if it is there all the time,’ explains Professor Anita Padmanabhanunni, a counselling psychologist at Life St Vincent’s, a Life Mental Health unit at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital. ‘Anxiety is a feature of some of the most common mental health disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and social anxiety disorder (SAD).’ 

Generalised anxiety disorder 

‘People with generalised anxiety disorder tend to worry all the time about many different things and have difficulty controlling their worrying. They worry about real things that may happen or hypothetical situations that may not actually happen. People with GAD tend to expect the worst, even when there is no real chance that something bad will occur. Common symptoms associated with GAD are feeling on edge or keyed up, difficulty concentrating, irritability and sleep disturbances.’

Panic disorder

‘Panic disorder is characterised by panic attacks that seem to occur “out of the blue”. These panic attacks can begin suddenly and involve the following symptoms: heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate, feeling light-headed, chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath and numbness or tingling sensations. People who experience panic attacks often believe that they are “going to die” or are “out of control”. These thoughts tend to increase their anxiety.’ 

Social anxiety disorder

‘People with social anxiety disorder experience high levels of anxiety and distress in social situations or performance-related situations (e.g. giving a presentation at work or school) because they worry about being judged negatively by other people. SAD is not just being shy, it’s a social phobia. People who struggle with SAD try to avoid social situations because they worry that they will say or do something that will lead to criticism or rejection by other people. This avoidance can interfere with their relationships and daily lives. It is common for people suffering from SAD to experience social anxiety symptoms such as nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat and trembling sensations. These symptoms often arise before they enter the social situation they fear.’

 ‘Anxiety disorders do not go away on their own,’ explains Professor Padmanabhanunni. ‘Treating an anxiety disorder requires professional help. The most effective treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioural therapy.’ 

Coping strategies for stress management

1. Evaluate your thoughts

Negative thoughts can distort reality and cause you to have feelings of anxiety about a situation that isn’t based on reality. Challenge your fear and interrogate the truth. For example, an honest conversation with your boss could allay the fear of getting fired. This gives you back control and restores calm and could prevent a panic attack in severe cases.

2. Practise deep, focused breathing

Rapid, shallow breathing sends a message to the brain that the body is in fight-or-flight mode, and this results in a flood of the stress hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Try breathing in for 4 counts and breathing out for 4 counts for 5 minutes in total. Slow, intentional breaths will normalise your heart rate and should provide anxiety relief.

3. Find a distraction

Experts agree that removing yourself from a situation that is causing anxiety is a good way to prevent anxiety, especially if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed. A brisk walk or 15 minutes of yoga, meditation or another form of gentle exercise focuses the mind on the body and brings emotional relief.

Dealing with anxiety

Download our decision tree to help you constructively work through your worry. Start at the bottom of the tree and work your way up.

If you’re concerned that worry is taking over your life or severely affecting your lifestyle, it’s important to consult your general practitioner (GP), who can refer you to a  mental health professional at a facility such as a Life Mental Health unit, where they can help you manage high anxiety and give you the support you need.

The content provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and does not cover every aspect of mental health. Consult a doctor or your nearest emergency unit if you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s mental health. The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a qualified healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.