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What is Anxiety?

This year Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on anxiety. Jade Hughes explains the different forms that anxiety can take.


Anxiety is part of the human condition, all of us would have experienced anxiety throughout our lives when we have found ourselves in anxiety-provoking situations such as before a performance, public speaking, a medical appointment, or leading up to an audition or an interview.


This anxiety may feel like butterflies in the stomach, maybe a restless night's sleep the evening before, or we may detect our heart racing just a little faster or our hands a little shaky.


For some of us, the anxiety may be more intense, we may find ourselves feeling extremely queasy, experiencing uncontrollable shaking or sweating, finding our mind going completely blank unable to concentrate on the task at hand, or having a strong urge to escape the situation that’s causing us to feel this way.


For most of us once the anxiety-provoking situation is over usually these feelings will pass, and eventually we should find ourselves slipping back into a more relaxed or natural state. We call this situational anxiety and this affects all of us to some degree, even though this may look and feel different for each of us.

Since the pandemic, I have been unable to work in the touring industry, having backed out of some pretty significant tours because I don’t feel confident that I am able to do those events anymore. I know full well that once on the road I will be absolutely fine and slip back into my role with ease, but the feeling of anxiety beforehand is so bad that I just can’t get through the time between being booked and actually leaving for the tour and will find any excuse to phone the person that has booked me and say sorry I can’t do that tour.


I have just completed one of Tonic Rider’s Peer support groups, which has given me the opportunity to discuss the issues I face. Firstly it was nice to realise that actually, it’s not just me, but lots of us suffer the same issues, secondly, it has helped me work through the issue so that I feel better about myself and the future.

This kind of anxiety will feel uncomfortable or can even be a very unpleasant experience but it’s usually not a cause for concern, although we may want to start incorporating coping strategies and calming techniques such as square breathing for when this does happen.


Having an anxiety disorder is quite different. Someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder or displaying symptoms of an anxiety disorder will experience severe and long-lasting anxiety that negatively impacts their daily life, interfering with social life, work, and relationships. Someone with an anxiety disorder may require treatment such as medication and/or therapy and need additional support.

There are different types of anxiety disorders including:


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Someone with GAD will feel anxious most days and this will continue for at least six months. The anxiety experienced is not specific to one issue but a variety of situations and concerns. This anxiety can feel uncontrollable and is very difficult to manage.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This is the least common anxiety disorder but it is a very disabling mental health condition. Someone with OCD will experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours which can consume their whole life. These obsessive thoughts are also known as intrusive thoughts which are reoccurring and extremely difficult to get rid of. Compulsive behaviours and mental activity follow on from these obsessional thoughts as an attempt to relieve the anxiety brought on by the thought. This may take the form of frequent checking, repetition of certain phrases, or counting.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop after experiencing a distressing, traumatic, or extremely stressful event. It can also develop after witnessing such an event. PTSD can develop immediately, weeks, months, or even years after the event. Someone living with PTSD will re-experience the trauma through flashbacks, dreams, and intrusive memories which can cause severe anxiety.


Panic Disorder

Someone diagnosed with a panic disorder experiences regular panic attacks. These attacks can come on suddenly and there is often fear around these panic attacks occurring. A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear or terror and is accompanied by a sense of impending doom or death. Physical symptoms of a panic attack can appear like those of a heart attack.


Phobias

Someone experiencing a phobia has a specific fear such as fear of leaving the home (agoraphobia) or fear of social situations (social anxiety disorder/ social phobia). This fear is severe and someone may avoid or restrict activities to avoid the thing that causes this overwhelming anxiety.

Unlike situational anxiety, we won’t all have lived experience of an anxiety disorder, however, it is still a common mental health issue, yet many of us be unaware of what an anxiety disorder actually is or the impact it can have on someone's life.


Unfortunately, a lack of awareness and understanding of these conditions may inform how we think, feel or respond to those who are living with an anxiety disorder.


For example getting irritated with a family member struggling with a social phobia who cancels family gatherings last minute, labelling someone’s anxiety-provoking thoughts as ‘irrational’ or ‘silly’, or getting frustrated that a friend hasn’t taken on board our advice to ‘think more positively’, ‘stop worrying ‘ and ‘just relax a little more’.


We may even make light of someone’s phobia or poke fun if it appears peculiar or unreasonable to us, or respond to someone mentioning their diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by telling them how 'you think you might have that too as you’re such a neat freak’.


Awareness around anxiety disorders is important to help break down stigma and to enable us to better support someone. With awareness, we can begin to improve our attitudes towards mental health and start to understand the impact a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder can have on a person's life. We can learn to be mindful of how we respond to someone experiencing or living with overwhelming anxiety, which in the past may have been unhelpful, and to instead respond with more patience and empathy.



If you are experiencing anxiety and work in the music industry, you may like to attend one of our FREE online Peer Support Groups. Anxiety is often discussed within these groups, which are facilitated by psychotherapists/counsellors with a background working in the music industry. Alongside this, if you would like to learn new skills to support a colleague who is experiencing anxiety, you may like to attend some of our training courses: Mental Health First Aid / Suicide First Aid Lite / Mental Health Awareness in the Music Industry. All of which, address the topic of anxiety.


For more information, please visit our Tonic Rider webpage.



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