Anxiety nation: what can we do about it?

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Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off today and this year’s theme is anxiety. I recently wrote a feature on anxiety for Psychologies magazine in which experts told me we are living in ‘anxious times’. So how anxious are we and why? Are we getting the help? And what can we do about it?



Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, tells me: “We have seen a steady increase in people coming to us for support for their anxiety over the years. We are living in what many would see as an ‘anxious time'”.

  • 23 million UK adults (44 per cent) experience anxiety symptoms at least once a week
  • One in five of us experience anxiety on a daily basis
  • Two-thirds of 1000 women surveyed feel anxious at least once a week and one-third have no idea how to cope with these feelings
  • One in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life



Experts say that in the modern world there are a number of reasons for our burgeoning anxiety, including:

  • THE ‘HAVE IT ALL’ LEGACY. This is particularly true of women, says Terri Bodell, a Harley Street psychotherapist specialising in stress-based issues. “We are now expected to be the perfect wife, mother, career woman and friend, as well as looking after our parents as they grow older – of course we’re anxious!”


  • THE DESIRE TO BE ‘PERFECT’. GP Dr Catherine Hood says she often sees people exhibiting a ‘perfectionist striving pattern’, whether it’s to do with work, money, relationships or their children’s achievements. “The trouble is, the bar is often raised too high and all they’re doing is making themselves more anxious,” she says.


  • SOCIAL NETWORKING PRESSURES. A 2012 survey commissioned by anxiety UK found that whilst some social networking sites can help people with anxiety (such as agoraphobia), it can also lead to people negatively comparing themselves to others, as well as problems with relaxaion and relationships (arising from online confrontations).


  • MONEY WORRIES. Anxiety UK’s Nicky Lidbetter says: “We have seen a steady increase in people coming to us for support with their anxiety over the years, with many citing financial and job worries as contributing factors.”



Despite anxiety being so prevalent, experts say sufferers don’t always get the help they need.

  • ANXIETY IS UNDER-TREATED. Psychiatrist Cosmo Hallstrom, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and an anxiety expert, says: “Anxiety remains under-diagnosed, under-conceptualised and under-treated.”


  • PEOPLE KEEP ANXIETY TO THEMSELVES. Nicky Lidbetter says: “There is still a great amount of stigma associated with anxiety, mostly due to people not understanding the condition.”


  • PEOPLE SELF-TREAT…BUT NOT ALWAYS SUCCESSFULLY. Dr Hallstrom says: “People often develop maladaptive ways of anxiety reduction, which offer relief at first, but at a cost of storing up troubles , either through taking inappropriate drugs or alcohol, or through their behaviours such as avoidance, co-dependency or cosmetic surgery.”



  • CBT. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tackles a range of distorted thinking patterns, such as ‘all or nothing’ thinking, overgeneralisation and jumping to conclusions. It helps you rethink your reaction and introduces the possibility that you might be incorrect in some way. For example, an anxious person who gets nervous in crowded social situations may be asked to keep a record of negative thoughts, feelings and actions when in a crowd. Anxiety UK’s Nicky Lidbetter says that CBT, which is for anxiety by the NHS, can help people to understand that while they can’t control every aspect of the world around them, “they can control how they interpret and deal with such things.”


  • ‘GROUNDING’ MECHANISMS. It is important to introduce some ‘grounding mechanisms’ into your life, things that calm you right down, such as yoga, pilates, tai chi, mindfulness or simply meeting up with friends. Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma, a psychologist and CBT therapist at the Capio Nightingale mental health hospital in London, says: “These are things that can lower raised adrenaline levels and help to alleviate anxiety.”


  • EXERCISE. Research from Nuffield Health and the London School of Economics in 2013 highlighted the potential to reduce the risk of poor mental health if people regularly participated in sports and exercise. “Exercise can be an exceptionally powerful tool to help manage stress and anxiety disorders,” says Leanne Spencer if Recovery Fitness. Leanne has found that pad work (boxing) has been a particularly powerful de-stressor for her clients.


  • HYPNOTHERAPY. Although it’s not approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellent (NICE), clinical hypnotherapy has plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it may be beneficial for anxiety, according to Anxiety UK. Juls Abernethy, hypnotherapist and behaviour coach at The Body Retreat, says: “Hypnotherapy works because it combines talking therapy with relaxation, often combining psychotherapy with work that’s done in a trance state. Trance is a wonderful relaxing state that also helps to reduce stress levels, increase self-esteem and boost feelings of personal control.”


  • MEDICATION. Psychiatrist Dr Ian Drever says: “In the short term, medication can also be used, either to ‘put out the immediate fire’ or to help to diminish the intensity of the background level of anxiety.” A new drug on the market, Lyrica, is used to treat anxiety and works by reducing the release of ‘nerve-exciting’ neurotransmitters in the brain including glutamate, substance P and noradrenaline. Dr Hollstrom says that Lyrica “seems to be non-addictive but effective.”



Anxiety UK. This website is an excellent first port-of-call for anxiety issues. On the help page you will find information on how to call or email them. There is also a live chat facility.

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Freelance journalist and mental health blogger, based in London UK

4 Responses to “Anxiety nation: what can we do about it?” Subscribe

  1. Kate May 12, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I find alcohol also has a massive impact on my anxiety levels – and – bizarrely – sugar.

    • Martha Roberts May 12, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

      I agree, Kate. And yet I think when we are anxious, we probably tend to consume more of those things and only acknowledge it in retrospect.

  2. Ola September 12, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    Suffering from anxiety since my early childhood, due to genetic tendency in my family and difficult childhood, I myself have noticed that alcohol, too much sugar and lack of routine cause anxiety levels raise. And what helps: eating lots of fresh fruit and veg / exercising within personal limits / reading / listening to music and your intuition and performing CBT exercises ON DAILY BASIS. Plus not being afraid of taking meds when there’s a need for it :)

  3. Anneliese September 21, 2014 at 4:54 am #

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