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Mental Health Awareness Week theme this year is 'anxiety', with the week running from 15 to 21 May 2

Anxiety is a feeling of unease such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Absolutely every human being will experience feelings of anxiety at some point in their life as an essential part of keeping safe. You may feel anxious/fearful about your baby's first immunisations or their first cold, and during times like these mild feelings of anxiety are perfectly normal.

However, if you're finding it hard to control these worries, you're experiencing reoccurring symptoms (some listed below) or you believe you can't cope with certain life circumstances you could be experiencing disordered anxiety.

Symptoms of disordered anxiety can include -

1. panic attacks i.e. chest pains, tension, palpations

2. disassociation also known as depersonalisation, derealisation or DP- the feeling of being in a dream, being separate from your body. The world around you feeling 'unreal'.

3. catastrophising – assuming the worst-case scenario

4. overthinking, racing thoughts or intrusive thoughts

5. hyperactivity, people pleasing and constantly being 'on the go'

6. avoidance of life activities

7. rituals or routines you must follow to feel calm

8. the need to be near an exit or a toilet for a quick escape

9. It can also be common to experience depression alongside anxiety due to the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety and exhaustion of your nervous system.

To read more click the link in our bio four mental health awareness week blog piece “Understanding Anxiety”.

Persistent or disordered anxiety means the symptoms you are experiencing keep happening, when you feel in danger but you are actually quite safe or when these feelings begin to interfere with your ability to function in life. Disordered anxiety is the greatest trickster you’ll ever meet. It makes you think you’re going to fall over the edge, make a fool of yourself or loose control of your own mind. What's really happening is an alarm system located in the brain - the amygdala has been activated to keep you safe and needs some help to find calm once again. This sounds simple but as the causes are so diverse it's sadly not as simple as flicking a switch.

As uncomfortable as these sensations are, a "why me, go away" approach and avoidance of life activities confirms to the amygdala that it's right to be in safety mode. This is why we stay caught in this persistent loop of anxiety.

The problem is when you suffer from disordered anxiety this alarm goes off when you’re not in any real danger. It's kind of like the fire alarm in your house going off every time you light a candle. For example, maybe you’re in a social situation which makes you feel uncomfortable. You start worrying what people think and the fear you feel can set off your alarm. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline, your heart beats faster, your chest feels tight, and a panic attack starts to take over. This happens because your alarm system can’t differentiate between real and perceived danger.

Caught in this loop, we respond to these sensations with avoidance or fear. The amygdala then logs this response to gage how it should react when you are next in a similar situation. For example, by avoiding a social situation your amygdala logs the avoidance as 'phew, we escaped, we're alive, I feel better, let's avoid that situation again to stay safe'. Making it harder and harder to face certain situations. By being kind to yourself, acknowledging the discomfort and offering comforting grounding techniques the amygdala will begin to turn itself making it easier to face your fears.

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