Help for Heroes Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner Precious Charuma looks at the symptoms of anxiety and how Veterans and Armed Forces families can manage them
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, and it can be mild or severe. Anxiety is our natural response to threat and it is also known as ‘fight or flight’. This is a normal response that allows us to react to danger. The ‘fight or flight’ response dates back to a time when we lived with a lot of physical threats, such as wild animals. These immediate threats required us to respond quickly to either ‘fight’ the threat or enable us to escape (‘flight’). When you feel under threat your body releases hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, which help physically prepare you to either fight the danger or run away from it. These hormones are what cause anxious feelings.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety include:
- Heart racing – triggered by the sudden rush of adrenalin, your heart is pumping faster to get blood and oxygen to vital organs and muscles to allow you to ‘fight’ or ‘flight’
- Muscle tension – your body is tensing up in preparation to ‘fight or flight’
- Blurred vision – pupils dilate in order to sharpen your vision so you can clearly see the danger
- Pins and needles
- High blood pressure
- Urge to go to the toilet – your body is trying to get rid of excess weight so you can ‘fight or flight’
- Sweating – your body is cooling down
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy – when you’re anxious, your blood pressure increases. Although it may feel like it, you’re unlikely to faint as that’s generally caused by decreases in blood pressure.
These are some of the more common symptoms of anxiety but there are many more.
Usually once you feel the danger has passed, your body releases other hormones to help your muscles relax which may cause you to shake. So even though we are living in a time with less physical threats, our body still reacts in the same way to any perceived threats.
Situations that can make you feel anxious include:
- Writing exams
- Starting a new job
- Going for a job interview
- Relationship problems
There are several anxiety disorders including Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD which is characterised by worry), panic disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and phobias (fear of specific objects or activities, e.g. claustrophobia, agoraphobia and arachnophobia). Quite often people may find themselves avoiding the situations or objects that make them feel anxious. Although this is helpful in the short term, it can make the problem worse over time.
How to cope with anxiety?
Anxiety can be managed easily with the right skills and techniques. For self-management it is important to use breathing and relaxation techniques. These should be incorporated as part of your daily routine. Mindfulness is also a great tool in managing anxiety as it allows you to change your focus. Other helpful ways of managing anxiety include eating healthily, exercising regularly, speaking to someone and listening to music.
If you need support in managing your anxiety, our Psychological Wellbeing team are here to help. If you’re a Veteran or an Armed Forces family member, click here to leave a confidential message for the team. You can also call them on 0808 2020 144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Centre for Clinical Interventions website