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Mental health matters

Stress and anxiety

If you’re always struggling to meet deadlines or coping with pressure, either at work or in your personal life, you may start suffering from stress. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • You work too hard and for too long
  • You have little or no time for rest and relaxation
  • You don’t get enough sleep
  • You don’t eat enough
  • You don’t exercise enough
  • Your friendships and relationships are suffering

Anxiety is caused by events, circumstances or situations which are threats, dangers or generate strong emotions. The body’s response is to release hormones such as adrenalin which bring about physical changes preparing us to work at maximum efficiency and which enabled our ancestors to attack wooly mammoths or run like hell. Today, this is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. The body reacts in the following ways:

  • Blood sugar levels rise to provide energy
  • Our heart beats more rapidly and we breathe more deeply to increase oxygen supply to the muscles
  • We sweat to prevent overheating
  • Our pupils dilate to enable us to see better
  • Our stomachs churn and we need to shit to reduce body weight for running
  • Our balls pull themselves up into the body for safety

While the need to fight mammoths and marauding invaders no longer exists, the response to stress still exists and the threats have evolved. Our worries about where we’re going in life, and our feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem also fuel stress. Furthermore these threats rarely require us to ‘flee or fight’ and so anxiety tends to build up rather than get burned off running like hell or knocking the shit out of the enemy. The symptoms of anxiety are varied. Some happen immediately; others develop over time – weeks, months, even years.

Mental and emotional signs and symptoms

  • Inability to cope
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Fear of failure (and success)
  • Fear of rejection
  • Poor memory
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Being easily distracted
  • Irritability
  • A build-up of emotions such as anger, jealousy and guilt
  • Cumming pre-maturely or not being able to cum at all
  • Dependence on alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs
  • A feeling of impending doom

Physical signs and symptoms

  • Racing pulse and palpitations (unusually forceful heart beat)
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Sweating and flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Lump in the throat
  • ‘Pit’ in the stomach
  • Stomach pain and peptic ulcers (raw area in the stomach eroded by excess acid)
  • Loose shit / diarrhoea
  • Headaches, nausea, dizziness and faintness
  • Numbness, pins and needles
  • Aching muscles, eg: shoulders and neck
  • Eczema and skin conditions
  • Insomnia, tiredness and bad dreams
  • Depressed immunity with increased susceptibility to infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Angina (chest pain), stroke and heart attack
  • Compulsive or obsessive behaviour, eg: eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Needing to piss often

When anxiety works

Anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to a problem or a fear which cannot be resolved or doesn’t have an immediate solution. For example, you may feel mildly anxious starting a new job or very anxious if someone you care about has just received a positive HIV diagnosis. But no one would think they were extreme or out of proportion in the circumstances. While it might be distressing for your friends to see you so worried over the diagnosis of your friend or puzzling to see you worrying about the job, your reactions in both situations would be normal. Both these scenarios involve feelings about something which you think might happen: not getting on with your new work colleagues, for example, or fearing the death or illness of your friend. We use words and phrases like ‘…I’m feeling apprehensive’, ‘…dreading the worst’, or ‘…feeling nervous’. A certain amount of anxiety is part and parcel of life, whether it’s the financial difficulties, interviews, illnesses or losing your mobile phone.

Anxiety uses up energy and feeds on strong emotions, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. When a problem presents itself we can be motivated to make decisions, engage in practical activities and find a solution to deal with the problem. Anxiety can be a good thing insofar as, without it, lots of things would be left undone, and so a degree of stress in our lives is a motivator. Difficulties arise when we dwell incessantly on the result of a threat or problem, feel unable to prioritise the key components of a response, or cannot find a solution. Eventually, the anxiety is out of proportion to the circumstances. In severe cases we can cease to function at all.

Work and home lives are neglected either because we’re too anxious to start anything or we’re easily distracted by some other more worrying job. The fear of anxiety can attach itself to specific areas like agoraphobia or claustrophobia. Some people get panic attacks which trigger overwhelming anxiety, fear and dread. Before we know it we’re pacing up and down (or rooted to the spot), stomach knotted, and feeling as if the world is about to close in on us. An over-active thyroid gland and depression can mimic anxiety in younger persons and heart, lung and digestive problems may produce similar symptoms. However, the more symptoms you have – the more likely anxiety is to blame.

Managing and reducing stress and anxiety

Stress

The best way to deal with stress is to be positive and constructive, see situations in perspective, analyse problems logically and find realistic solutions. Easier said than done? Here are some suggestions:

  • Work out which situations and people cause stress and why; you may be able to make changes in a positive manner. Talk honestly – but sensitively – to those you see as being at the root cause of your troubles.
  • Change those things that can be changed, learn to accept those that cannot
  • Find solutions and make decisions as calmly as circumstances allow, and not under the pressure of deadlines
  • Break problems or tasks into bite-sized chunks and tackle them one step at the time
  • Set realistic targets and goals
  • Expect to make mistakes and don’t give up when the going gets tough. It’s all experience, learn from it and use it to your advantage
  • Talk more slowly and listen without interrupting
  • Learn to be patient and lose your great sense of urgency
  • Don’t say something will take two hours when it will take four, just to please someone. If it takes four, say so
  • Learn to value your strengths and acknowledge areas that need support – both are part of you
  • Don’t compare yourself to others; but if you feel there is a need – don’t be unfair on yourself
  • Don’t expect others to change before you are prepared to change yourself
  • If things are getting on top of you: say so. Express your emotions.

How to overcome fear and anxiety | Mental Health Foundation
Struggling with stress | NHS Choices
Stress | Rethink
How to manage stress | MIND

Can Stress Actually Kill You? | AsapSCIENCE | 29 Oct 2013 | 3m07s

Anxiety

  • Accept that your anxiety is a reality
  • Talk to a trusted friend who is a good listener and whose judgement you trust
  • Talk to someone who has been through a similar experience through a self help group, for example
  • Regular exercise, relaxation techniques and mediation can all help – not just when the crisis is on top of you, but by making it a part of your everyday life
  • Keep a note of situations which cause anxiety, and look for patterns. Is your anxiety precipitated by events, circumstances, and/or people? Prioritise the level of stress they cause.
  • Identify what helps to relieve and manage your stress
  • Examine what measures you can take to reduce anxiety at work and at home. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Decide on a range of relaxation techniques, eg: a massage, meditation, swimming, a walk.
  • Re-schedule duties or tasks to reduce anxious situations blurring into each other
  • Buffer anxious situations with ‘relaxation slots’, eg: a ten-minute break, a full lunch hour or a massage
  • Re-allocate priorities, make a list and stick to it
  • A realistic ‘hit list’ of things to do for the day/week, tackling tasks and problems one at time, allocating each of them an action plan and ticking them off as you achieve them
  • Delegate more
  • Be more assertive
  • Be more realistic about deadlines and being more assertive when negotiating them
  • Improve your most frequently used environments, eg: flowers, incense, a ticking clock, soothing music, a more comfortable chair
  • Switch on the answerphone during breaks whether you’re doing the housework or between meetings

If symptoms of anxiety persist, or if you feel there is no noticeable improvement, it’s important to seek professional help. It’s certainly better to receive treatment early. Just talking through the issues with your GP may be enough. Alternatively therapy may be suggested to help you better understand and manage your anxiety. Admittedly it’s heavier stuff, but it’s about helping you to help yourself and not about carting you off to a hospital against your will! In some cases tranquillizers are prescribed as a short time measure to provide some ‘head space’ – however, they don’t deal with the root cause of your anxiety.

Why do I feel anxious and panicky? | NHS Choices
Generalised anxiety disorder in adults | NHS Choices
Anxiety disorders | ReThink
Anxiety and panic attacks | MIND
How to overcome fear and anxiety | Mental Health Foundation

Exercise and diet

Regular exercise such as swimming, cycling, going to the gym or other non-competitive sport is essential in managing and reducing stress and anxiety effectively. Look at it as a modern day equivalent to the ‘fight or flight’ response: the body has primed you for activity – exercising will help you use this energy and reset your stress responses at a manageable level. A balanced and healthy diet will help you combat the effects of stress and anxiety. However, caffeine and nicotine mimic the body’s anxiety response and are best avoided when you’re under real pressure.

Tips:

  • Eat high-fibre whole foods
  • Lower your intake of sugar, salt and saturated fats
  • Eat little and often to prevent hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) which also trigger the release of adrenalin and heighten the symptoms of stress
  • If you smoke, try to stop. In the short term, smoking may seem to quell your stress, but in the longer term it will magnify the harmful effects of stress on your health
  • Keep alcohol intake to within the safe maximum

Rest and relaxation

One of the most successful ways of dealing with stress is to make time for yourself, learn to relax and enjoy yourself.

  • Consider turning off your mobile phone once in a while, or switching on the answerphone
  • Set some 'you' time aside at home at least twice a week. Cook yourself a favourite meal or experiment with a new recipe. Look forward to a particular TV programme or watch a movie. Settle down with a book. Write a chatty letter or send a few e-mails. Relax in a candlelit bath.
  • Consider going to the cinema, theatre, exhibition, art gallery, market or local park. Doing at least one of these each week provides a varied programme of social activities.
  • Go out for a meal or invite friends round for a simple meal and fun company
  • Go for a walk to a part of town you’ve not been to before, perhaps visiting a landmark or tourist attraction
  • If you have a computer, spend some time exploring the internet (having checked out the costs – you don’t want to get stressed over a massive phone bill)
  • Make sure you give yourself a holiday at least once a year, and a weekend break at least twice a year. They don’t have to be expensive.

How to look after your mental health using exercise | Mental Health Foundation

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