The month of May brings the health world together to spread awareness of mental health. We live in a world full of stressors and worries, it is no wonder how overwhelmed most of us feel and unfortunately, our mental health is often neglected. And yet our mental health is just as important as our physical health. This article aims to shed some light on one of the most common mental health issues that affect 1 in 13 people globally; anxiety aka – the Worry Bug.
Have you ever felt plagued by your own mind? Felt like your head might pop just by the sheer speed at which thoughts are running through it? Felt like you just couldn’t catch your breath and the very act of taking a breath seems impossible? Say hello to your anxiety.
Have you ever heard your child complaining of stomachache yet they aren’t physically sick? Ever heard your child constantly seek validation that they are good or doing well? Ever heard your child cry and find every reason not to go to school? Ever got frustrated at your child for being overly irritable or grumpy? Say hello to their anxiety.
But let us hit the breaks for a second and understand exactly what anxiety is.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” And while stress is a normal human internal function to external pressures; anxiety refers to disproportionate levels of stress in response to external pressures of both current and future events. It is very important to understand that while anxiety can be scary, it is not always a medical disorder. The APA describes a person with an anxiety disorder as “having recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.” Once anxiety becomes a disorder, it can impede with a person’s daily function.
Many times people wonder what the actual cause of anxiety is but the truth is the causes of anxiety are so vast and complex with some of them often overlapping each other at the same time. These causes include:
- Environmental stressors – at work, in a relationship or between friend and family issues
- Medical factors – as a side effect of medication or the actual symptom of a disease or the stress of a diagnosis or treatment
- Withdrawal from drugs
- Genetics – anxiety tends to run in families
- Brain chemistry – due to a misalignment of hormones and electrical signals in the brain
And while anxiety in adults has a complex background, the development of anxiety in children is concomitant to a situation or perceived event that is frightening or traumatising to the child. Examples of this include:
- Parents fighting
- Hearing of other children’s parents getting divorced or dying
- Car accidents
- Moving to new places
- Getting lost, etc.
Now to understand those tell tale signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder in both adult and child:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
- Inattention, poor focus
- Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
- Refusing to go to school
- Meltdowns before school about clothing, hair, shoes, socks
- Meltdowns after school about homework
- Difficulties with transitions within school, and between school and an activity/sport
- Difficulty settling down for bed
- Having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance
If you feel that you or your child are suffering from anxiety, please speak out and reach out to your GP who can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor who teaches and instils various coping mechanisms and ways of managing anxiety. If perhaps you find yourself apprehensive of speaking out in person, there is a certified website/app called 7 Cups – https://www.7cups.com -developed by psychologist, Glen Moriarty who saw the great power of listening when it comes to mental health.
But the truth is not everyone has someone to talk to, hence he developed this app to start making being heard a reality for everyone.
After reading all of this information, I need people to know that “IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK! IT IS OK TO FEEL LIKE YOU NEED HELP!” And if you know someone that you suspect is suffering from any form of anxiety, please reach out to them, you cannot even begin to understand how much impact it can have on someone struggling just to have someone they love sit beside them and say “I know you are not ok. I understand. I am here for you. Do you want to talk?”
I urge you not to ever tell anyone adult or child “to get over it” or “life is unfair you will survive” or negate their feelings. The worst thing for someone struggling from anxiety is to feel like they don’t matter or that their feelings are irrelevant or dramatic.
With that said, my last bit of advice is:
“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms.”Paulo Coelho
By YourBotswana writer: Dr. Noorain Lottering-Kokabi, BMSc, MBBS (UWI MONA) 29 May 2019