Mental Health Matters – COVID – Anxiety

This week we have a focus on COVID and Anxiety. As with anything of this nature, please be kind to yourself and mindful of your limits. If you find any of this challenging to read, please be patient with yourself and know that it is OK. If you, or someone you know is displaying any of the following issues, please do seek support and medical guidance.

Anxiety

Feeling anxious or worried is a common response where you can be left feeling a sense of nervousness or unease about a situation that might have an unexpected outcome such as a big meeting, presentation or exams, it can also extend to social situations where you are meeting new people. Many people experience this feeling regularly and it can impact on sleep or thought processes. Dealing with these feelings can take time but can often be overcome. It is easy for some to mistake these common feelings for Anxiety.

Anxiety is a more complex need and can impact on daily life. It triggers the “fight or flight” response where you brain strives to keep you safe in situations. When you encounter anxiety, this can be all consuming and dealing with emotions and physical responses to this can be time consuming and something that requires additional support. Anxiety disorders are diagnosable and treatable and it is important to seek professional or medical support if any aspects of anxiety begin to profoundly impact on your ability to live your life.


Symptoms of Anxiety:

People can often experience physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms when they feel anxious or stressed:

Physical symptoms can include:

- Increased heart rate or increased muscle tension

- ‘Jelly legs’ or tingling in the hands and feet

- Hyperventilation (breathing too heavily) or dizziness

- Difficulty in breathing or a tight band across the chest

- Wanting to use the toilet more often

- Feeling sick

- Tension headaches

- Hot flushes or increased perspiration

- Dry mouth

- Shaking or palpitations

- Choking sensations


Psychological symptoms might include:

- You might lose control and/or go ‘mad’; or feelings that you might die

- You might think you will have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour

- People are looking at you and noticing your anxiety

- Things are speeding up/slowing down

- You’re detached from your environment and the people in it

- You want to run away/escape from the situation

- You’re on edge and alert to everything around you


Panic attacks are a physical symptom of anxiety and can often display similarities with heart attacks or breathing difficulties. Panic attacks can come on seemingly with little notice and can be very frightening and distressing to the person affected and those around them. They do not cause physical harm but can be very upsetting and worrying. If you or someone you know experiences numerous panic attacks that seem to come on for no apparent reason, it is worth reaching out to your GP as this could be indicative of Panic Disorder.


Ways to support someone who is encountering a panic attack:

The first thing to remember is that you need to try to stay calm, if you are someone who can become worried or anxious, it is better to pass this on to someone else who might be able to support the sufferer more effectively. You have to be mindful of your limitations and your own wellbeing so if you are unable to support someone at this time, that is OK as you need to be able to look after yourself.


Grounding Technique

5 things you can see

4 things you can feel

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

This technique is designed to distract the mind of the person who is encountering a panic or anxiety attack. It allows the “thinking” part of the brain to get into action to enable the person to begin to breathe slower and reduce the physical symptoms of the attack.


Breathing

Once the person begins to feel calm, they are more able to access breathing techniques where you can practise slow and controlled breathing (always slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth)

It is good to be able to speak calmly and with authority so the person encountering the attack is able to hear you and feel your presence. You being able to remain calm will help reassure the person that they are OK and that this will pass.

Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways and can have both physical and psychological impact on people’s lives. Since COVID entered our lives, it has brought with it a lot of feelings of worry, nervousness and unease with an unexpected outcome. It has brought about huge changes to the way we live, the way we work and the way we interact with others. Dealing with COVID related anxiety raises many different needs:


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD

OCD is a phrase that it thrown around often where someone might declare they are “OCD” because they like things a certain way or pay close attention to detail within their work or homes. OCD can be a debilitating need where an individual cannot continue with aspects of their lives without a routine or ritual of checking, cleaning or washing. The impact of OCD on those who encounter this is often underestimated; it is a diagnosable mental health condition but due to the stigma attached to it, those who require help will often not seek medical support. OCD can be treated but will often need to start with a conversation. If you are or you know of someone who struggles with OCD, it is important you seek support; it might be that you speak with someone you trust in the first instance and this can then be followed by seeking professional guidance.


With the arrival of COVID there was a real emphasis on regular cleaning and hand washing; these expectations can quickly escalate to where they is a constant source of worry or anxiety for someone. This is when cleaning and hygiene goes beyond routine and starts to impact the lives of an individual or those around them. Rituals around cleaning, hand washing and hygiene can be all consuming both emotionally and physically and can take hours for the person to complete to a point where they feel comfortable and able to get on with other things; it can take the slightest change in the ritual to cause an interruption and for this to be repeated.


Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where someone develops a fear of certain spaces as they are unable to escape, this often entails fear of open or outdoor spaces and using public transport where places can be busy and feel intense. Claustrophobia is a fear of tight or enclosed spaces where someone will actively avoid tunnels, small rooms or smaller spaces even if they are outside. COVID has led to more people feeling worried or anxious about being outside. The “stay at home” rule has led to some feeling very nervous about being out. At home, you are able to control your environment but being out means you have to rely on others. Both Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia are treatable but this can take time through CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) or controlled and supported exposure to become desensitised. As with all anxiety disorders, these can have a huge impact on how someone is able to live as these can provide a constant source of threat and fear.


Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety or Social Phobia is a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations. As with many of anxiety disorders, people will often claim that they have social anxiety where they can feel uncomfortable around new people or being with lots of people but these worries or nervousness can often pass when they are in the situation. Social anxiety or social phobia can be very distressing to those who encounter it; it is an innate fear of social situations where the sense of worry or anxiety becomes all-consuming in the build-up, during or after the event. It can lead to the person avoiding social situations and becoming withdrawn from those around them. Social anxiety can manifest itself in both physical and emotional responses; people can experience an overwhelming sense of fear that can lead to physical reactions. Social anxiety goes beyond seeking reassurance, it can lead to people feeling that they aren’t competent or that they are constantly being watched and judged so are never truly able to feel confident or seen. Social anxiety can be treated and if you feel you or someone you know finds this challenging, it is important that you seek professional guidance. If you are not comfortable to do this then starting a conversation with a trusted friend is a good place to start. You can explore what you believe your triggers are and begin to look at how they can be supported. Professional guidance will be advisable if you experience your social anxiety is taking over the way you are able to live your life.


If you or someone you know has identified with any of the above information, know that you are not alone.

Seek support from those around you and, if you are able to, medical support or guidance.All of the above are treatable in many ways so if you

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