This week is ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ in the U.K. It is the chance to raise awareness of the importance of making time to ensure better mental health for all.
As part of this week, the Mental Health Foundation just circulated a press release citing that more than one million adults across Scotland have experienced levels of anxiety stopping them from living their lives. These figures are shocking, but they are not unique to Scotland. They are increasingly the case in industrialised and western countries.
Given the ongoing pressures we all have through higher numbers of communication platforms, as well as having to work longer and longer hours to make a living, it is without doubt that anxiety continues to be a growing issue across Europe. ‘Anxiety’ is a generic term to describe a stress response that can include generalised and social anxieties, phobias, panic attacks and associated catastrophic thoughts. It is when the ‘fight or flight’ response in the limbic system in the brain becomes hyper-alert and when non-threatening events or issues are internally misinterpreted as real and deadly threats.
So, taking a plane ride for a holiday becomes a life threatening event for someone with acute anxiety and phobias. If unchecked without access to treatments like Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), the anxiety can develop into wider phobias that tentacalise into various part of a person’s life.
So, the individual may start to worry about the holiday and an opportunity to enjoy a break becomes a tedious and torrid task of trying to manage fears about the plane crashing. Generalised anxiety then takes over, with a stress peak coming to a head as he/she gets closer to the event.
Furthermore, they may start to worry about the journey to the airport and with corresponding thoughts and idealisations of asking the taxi driver to turn back as the individual seeks to turn away or flee from the situation. It is a form of self-defence and self-protection, as everyday events become more riskier to someone suffering from acute anxiety.
I have listed one possible scenario, though the example can morph into many forms. Some people feel that they are ‘out of control’ when they have panic attacks, others feel that they cannot travel on public transport as they might shame or embarass themselves. Which brings me onto a key point, which is that anxiety is linked to shame and self-doubt with many people.
The sooner anxiety can be treated and worked with through therapy, the better. Which is why we need to keep talking about mental health and where nothing should be taboo. By allowing clients to speak openly, we provide a supportive and holding framework that is the first step to recovery.
Fiyaz Mughal OBE MBACP is the Founder of Counselling4Anxiety (www.counselling4anxiety.eu) and specialises in working with people with anxiety and OCD.