The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (15 to 21 May) this year is anxiety.

Feeling anxious about things and situations is a common response to certain situations in our lives. It’s something most of us will experience. But for some of us, feelings of anxiety can be constant and negatively affect our daily lives. Managing feelings of anxiety can be difficult.

Anxiety can cause changes in behaviour and the way we think and feel about things. Anxiety can also have several physical symptoms.

How anxiety can feel

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease, usually about a stressful situation, an uncertain outcome, or a forthcoming event that can make it difficult to go about your day.

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of looming danger, panic, or doom
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling afraid in situations where there is no threat
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Worrying excessively about things
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

What can cause anxiety?

Anxiety often has triggers and sometimes we can easily identify what these are but at other times, it may not always be clear what’s causing it. Not knowing what triggers your anxiety can intensify it and you may start to worry that there's no obvious solution available to you.

Examples of things that can trigger anxiety include:

  • Childhood stress or trauma
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Lack of sleep
  • Financial concerns
  • Upcoming exams
  • Negative self-talk
  • Workplace stress
  • Health issues
  • Social events
  • Conflict in personal or work lives

Tips for managing anxiety

There isn’t one way to manage anxiety. Below are some of the things others find works for them that you can try and see if these help you.  

1. Talk to your GP

Talking to your GP about anxiety is a good start if you’re worrying significantly affects your daily life.

Book an appointment, share what you’re going through and they can help discuss ways to help you manage the anxiety.

2. NHS talking therapies

Talking therapies can be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety and studies have shown it is often more effective than medication.

Find your local talking therapies service on the NHS website.

3. Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.

The box exercise below is a fast, effective, and discreet exercise that some people find helpful: 

  1. Focus on a square object, for example a window
  2. Note the four corners
  3. Start in one corner breathe in, hold the breath until the count of one, while you do this allow your eyes to travel to the next corner
  4. At the next corner, slowly breathe out
  5. Repeat until you have ‘circled’ the square you have used.

Find more breathing exercises on the NHS website

4. Exercise

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release serotonin which can improve your mood.

5. Relax ​​​​​

As well as regular exercise, learning how to relax is important. You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or tai-chi help you unwind.

6. Self-care

Sometimes when we’re dealing with anxiety self-care can feel more difficult, but it actually helps us feel better when we make time to look after our physical and emotional wellbeing.

  • Try to establish healthy sleeping habits
  • Eat regular, healthy meals
  • Maintain a personal care routine - regularly shower/ bathe, wash and brush hair, brush teeth twice a day   
  • Make sure you’re drinking enough water
  • Explore your artistic side draw, paint, colour  
  • Learn a new recipe, bake
  • Learn a new skill
  • Play with your pet
  • Listen to music, sing like no-one is listening and dance like no-one’s watching
  • Do something for yourself - take a bubble bath, use a face mask, paint your nails

7. Journaling

Writing worries down can help you to better understand and make sense of what you’re experiencing and could help you identify if there are any triggers you hadn’t yet recognised.

Start by writing down whatever is on your mind. It can help you look at things differently when you see if written down. It can help to look at it and think about how you might handle things next time something similar happens.

8. Reading

Reading has many benefits. It can be a great way to help you relax your mind, reduces stress lowers your heart rate, eases muscle tension, provides an escape and helps you develop insights into situations

9. Peer support

It can really help to talk to others that understand what you might be going through. Online peers support communities such as Mind’s side-by-side enable you to make connections and learn from others.

What helps you?

What do you do to help manage feelings of anxiety? Share your tips on social media using the hashtag #ToHelpMyAnxiety

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