What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a felt, physical reaction, often to a perceived threatening situation which activates the release of stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenalin). This provides an energy burst that fuels our primeval fight-flight response. Because the priority is on ‘immediate survival’, stress hormones act to increase our breathing and heart rate, pumping blood and oxygen to muscles in our arms and legs, stimulating sweat glands essential to keep your body from overheating.
Equally, those systems such as the digestive or reproduction systems which are not necessary for immediate survival are shut down (there’s no point in digesting your last meal if, as in days gone by, you’re on the menu!)
It’s this automatic, ‘normal’ response to perceived threat that accounts for many of the physical as well as the emotional and psychological symptoms of anxiety, which include:
Physical: Sweating profusely, gastrointestinal upset, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, panic.
Psychological: Fear, irritability, restlessness, poor concentration, fatigue, disturbed sleep.
Coping with Anxiety
Some general steps we can take to help control or reduce anxiety include:
- moderate or avoid caffeine and other stimulants as well as alcohol as they can intensify anxiety levels
- take regular exercise
- ensure you take time out to relax / wind down and establish a regular sleep pattern
- if you notice an increase in anxiety, talk to someone you trust – it can help you regain perspective
- try to identify and find words for what it is you are experiencing or are feeling threatened by – often the worst-case scenario is the least likely outcome
- avoid “if only” thinking. You can learn from the past but you can’t change it
- avoid “what if” thinking – you can’t predict the future
Anxiety and Coronavirus
When we’re facing a crisis of any sort, fear and anxiety are inevitable, after all as we’ve seen they’re normal, natural responses to challenging situations infused with danger and uncertainty. So, the single most useful thing anyone can do in any type of crisis – coronavirus – related or otherwise – is to focus on what you can control.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has more information on how to cope if you’re feeling anxious about coronavirus.
- follow the 90:10 principle – accept the 10 percent of life events which are outside your control, but recognise that 90 per cent of the time you can control your reaction – this can turn the stress volume up or down
- if you’re prone to panic attacks or flashbacks, establish a safe space in your home that you can go to when feeling uncomfortable or nervous
- connect back to your body. You might have your own methods of slowing your breathing but you can press your fingertips together, count in for 7 and out for 11 – whatever works for you
- acknowledge your thoughts. It’s OK to share your concerns with others that you trust – doing so could help them too
Inspire can help
If you’re concerned, consider contacting the Inspire EAP dedicated NICS staff helpline number on 0808 800 0002, available to support our teams, or a webchat service such as Lifeline or the Samaritans.