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Stress & anxiety

Author: Jackie Tasker
Published: Apr 1 2008

Everybody experiences anxiety at some time, since it is the body?s natural reaction to fear.

Stressful events such as taking examinations cause adrenaline to be released into the bloodstream causing some of the following physical reactions:

? dry mouth
? palpitations
? nausea
? tight chest

This response, known as the ?fight or flight? reaction, is useful in preparing us for the oncoming danger, and so can help to enhance our performance in some situations.

In most cases once the danger has passed the feelings disappear along with it.

When does anxiety become an issue?

Anxiety becomes an issue when it occurs over a prolonged period of time, when the physical reactions above happen where there isn?t a danger, or when the danger is perceived to be a far bigger threat than it is in reality. In these instances anxiety can begin to interfere with everyday life.

Extreme anxiety can leave you too scared to leave home, unable to socialise, go to work, or even to seek out the help you need.

This extreme type of anxiety is known as Anxiety Disorder, and your G.P. will be able to diagnose and recommend treatment for this.

How do I recognise if I have anxiety?

There are some common symptoms of anxiety which can help you to recognise whether you are a suffer:

? Prolonged insomnia or disturbed sleep
? Increased smoking, or restarting after having given up
? Increased alcohol consumption
? Over eating or lack of appetite
? Feeling restless and fidgety
? Feeling irritable or angry
? Inability to concentrate
? Constant feeling of nervousness
? Feeling more tearful e.g. reacting to news reports or TV programmes
? Withdrawal from activities you normally take part in
? Having panic attacks

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms it is likely that anxiety is affecting you. Do remember, however, that anxiety is treatable and can be overcome by most people either through self help, or with help from their G.P.

The most important thing once you recognise the symptoms of anxiety is to start to look after yourself, in particular focusing on the basics of sleeping, and eating properly. Some ideas of how to do this are given in the section below.

If you feel concerned about your levels of anxiety, then please seek advice from your G.P.

What can I do to help to control anxiety?

If you are experiencing levels of anxiety there are a number of things that you can do to help yourself:

? Relaxation
? Sleep
? Diet
? Exercise
? Talking/Counselling


Learning to relax is one of the most important factors in helping to control anxiety as it brings your focus into the here and now. This is extremely useful as the danger is perceived i.e. it doesn?t exist in the here and now, and so stress levels are reduced.

Here are a number of suggestions that will make a difference:

a) Deep breathing

Anxiety can lead you to breathe more shallowly, and thus deep breathing is a simple, but effective, relaxation technique. Moreover, deep breathing increases the oxygen flow to the brain, enabling it to think more clearly.

One exercise is included here, but there are many, so seek out the one that best suits you.

Please note that breathing exercises can be difficult at first, and require practice, so please try a number of times, they do get easier.

b) Relaxation exercises

Relaxation exercises e.g. yoga can be done at home, or in classes. There are many books and CDs on the market that can help you find exercises to suit you. A couple of ideas are suggested here, but feel free to seek out other ideas that meet your specific requirements.

c) Positive thinking

Negative thinking can trigger off anxiety by promoting a poor view of yourself, or the world. It makes stresses seem bigger by disempowering our ability to deal with them.

Positive thinking will empower you, focus you in the here and now, and start to reduce anxiety levels.

There are many books and CDs on the market that can help you to find ways of changing negative thoughts into positive ones. Some are suggested here, but feel free to seek out other ones that meet your specific requirements.


Not getting enough sleep can be one of the main causes of prolonged anxiety, as the brain and body are not able to restore their energy levels. This includes not being able to sleep, falling asleep but waking early, or not having quality sleep.

Focusing on getting a full night?s sleep can have one of the biggest impacts on reducing anxiety, yet people can underestimate the power this can have. You should aim for between 8-9 hours sleep in order to function effectively.

Here are some simple techniques that will help:

? Routine ? going to bed and rising at the same time each day
? Relaxing ? wind down before sleeping with a hot milky drink, reading, listening to relaxing music etc.
? Make the bedroom a place of rest, clear the clutter, move away other distractions and use it only for sleeping.
? Don?t lie there ? if you can?t sleep then get up, make a drink, write down thoughts that are in your head, and relax before returning to bed.
? Drinking and eating ? leave several hours after eating before going to bed, and limit your intake of caffeine too. Hot milky drinks, or herbal teas e.g. camomile will help to wind you down.


Small improvements to your diet can help. Try reducing the amount of caffeine, eating the recommended 5 a day fruit and veg, reducing fat and sugar intake and eating a healthier diet.


Exercise uses up the excess adrenaline, and releases endorphins into the blood stream which have been shown to ?lift your mood?. Exercise also helps to burn off the excess irritability and restlessness, helps muscles to relax, and so aids a more restful sleep.


Talking about your fears, and concerns to others helps in a number of ways. Firstly, simply speaking it out loud can help to put it in perspective. Keeping things bottled up can sometimes make them appear far bigger than they really are.

Secondly you can hear other people?s perspectives which may help you to see things in a different light.

Thirdly, others may have experienced similar issues, or feelings to you, and may be able to give you options which you are unable to think of yourself.

You can choose to talk to family or friends: they are an excellent source of support.

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