Tips to diminish the power of anxietyPosted on: 12 November 2018 by 50connect editorial
Anxiety is a serious health condition - don’t suffer in silence. Dr Alexandra Phelan offers some strategies to help with persistent worries.
With recent news stories about students buying the anti-anxiety drug Xanax through social media, the whole notion of what is anxiety and how should it be treated has perhaps never been timelier.
Firstly, it’s important to note that feeling anxious can be beneficial – it’s our body’s way of preparing us for a stressful situation, be that running away from a wild animal, to boosting mental performance before an exam.
Of course, every one of us has felt anxious at some point in our lives, but for some people anxiety can be difficult to control and can really stop them getting on with their daily lives. The feelings of fear or worry can build to a point where psychological symptoms contribute to physical ones – dizziness, heart palpitations, trembling or shaking, dry mouth, sweating, headaches and more. Together these can lead to a full-blown panic attack, where the sufferer cannot function at all and often has to leave whatever situation has brought it on to calm down.
One of the most common problems associated with anxiety is sleeplessness, lying awake at night ruminating on things that happened that day, or worrying about potential problems in the future. The key is that anxiety often isn’t proportional to the size of the actual problem – it can be a subjective cumulation of smaller worries that contributes to an overriding sense of worry.
There are increasing numbers of strategies to help with anxiety. Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help reprogram the brain to think differently in specific situations, especially if it is known what has triggered the anxiety in the past. Your doctor can point you towards reputable CBT therapists in your area for face to face sessions, or increasingly there are online CBT groups and services which can help too.
Similarly, mindfulness can be a useful tool in calming the brain and getting some perspective on any problems. Rather than worrying about the past or the future, you are centred in the here and now, and if practiced regularly, this can really help. Other strategies than can be beneficial are breathing exercises, getting regular exercise, and finding ways to relax – just turning off your mobile phone and finding some time to simply sit in the silence can help. What seems to be important is using one or more of these strategies as a preventative rather than curative solution – if you know you’re prone to panic attacks, address this by incorporating calming strategies into your daily schedule.
Some patients may also need prescription medication, and there is no shame in that, but that should be used alongside other strategies such as CBT, not on its own. Antidepressants, usually a type called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be of great value, but in some people cause sleeping problems and can actually increase feelings of anxiety, so always keep your doctor in the loop about any side effects.
Those with something called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) are sometimes prescribed a drug called pregabalin. This is an antiseizure drug which is normally used to treat epilepsy but is also licensed to treat anxiety.
Beta-blockers are sometimes used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heartbeat, palpitations and tremors. However, they are not psychiatric drugs so they don’t reduce any of the psychological symptoms. They may be helpful in certain situations, such as if you have to face a phobia such as flying.
If you experience severe anxiety that is having a significant impact on your day-to-day life, you may be offered a benzodiazepine tranquilliser. But these drugs can cause unpleasant side effects and can become addictive, so your doctor should only prescribe them at a low dose for a short time, to help you through a crisis period. Pharmacy2U can provide online ordering and free, convenient home delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions, so you don’t need to worry about getting to the pharmacy.
Anxiety can be very serious, so don’t suffer in silence and reach out for help before it’s too late.
Dr. Alexandra Phelan is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions. Manage your repeat prescriptions by going to www.pharmacy2u.co.uk/NHS or telephone 0800 031 9162.
*Information provided by the NHSBSA.
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