With exposure to social media being almost inescapable, we are inundated, like never before, with aspirational, glamourized and to a certain extent, unattainable lifestyles. The hours in our days remain the same, however the expectations of higher levels of productivity are continuously on the increase. It is no wonder that stress-related symptoms are all too often becoming common place, with anxiety being a silent but detrimental disorder.
Anxiety is a normal emotion which helps us to recognise real problems and solve them. However, when anxiety grows out of proportion it can become disabling. Anxiety can be characterised as an unpleasant and complicated combination of emotions often accompanied by physical sensations such as heart palpitations, nausea, shortness of breath, angina, tension headaches and nervousness.
In 2014 The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated 43.6 million adults in the United States were reported to have a mental, behavioural or emotional disorder[i]. This number represents 18.1% of all US adults[ii].
Life’s daily stressors; such as traffic, job interviews and deadlines result in bouts of anxiety which, if left untreated, can become far worse. There are different types of anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) refers to a person who cannot shake unwarranted worries, or the feelings of jarring, to the point of avoiding everyday activities[iii]. GAD is characterised by excessive, unrealistic worries that last six months or more.
Women are twice as likely to develop anxiety, depressive and insomnia disorders as men[iv]. Factors which increase the reported risk in women often correlate with times of hormonal change, with pregnancy and menopause being times when women are more susceptible to symptoms of anxiety. Increasingly, cultural pressures can be a contributing factor. Society is telling women “they can have the big job title, the bank account to match and the “perfect” body”. However, these factors are often not under control and the act of striving for all three generates a lot of anxiety coupled with a deep fear of failure.
Another catalyst which can exacerbate levels of anxiety is an excessive amount of time spent online. Studies have reported associations between internet addiction, characterised by spending more than 38 hours a week online, and anxiety[v].
It’s important to create rituals where you don’t have access to your phone/laptop such as during meals and when exercising or with friends. If you can, check your phone at allocated times during the working day for 5 minute slots and aim to stop using your device two hours before bed. Knowing when to switch off can help you feel more balanced and in control.
Treatment choices depend on the symptoms and preference of the patient. Psychotherapy can be an effective way to discover what causes an individual’s anxiety disorder. Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) works on the basis that thoughts cause feelings and behaviours, not external factors. By equipping an individual to identify their negative thoughts and change the way they think, in essence, empowers them to feel better, even if the situation remains unchanged[vi].
Although CBT is often the preferred treatment method for anxiety disorders, it has been critiqued for being too verbal or abstract. Due to the role of imagery in maintaining anxiety disorders, art may be a useful addition to CBT for anxiety disorder management. It is thought to enable the expression of inner thoughts and feelings when verbalisation is difficult or not possible. Evidence suggests that art therapy may help to alleviate problems with low self-esteem[vii]. As art therapy, may evoke distressing feelings or thoughts, it is recommended under the guidance of a qualified art therapist.
As a yoga teacher, I am a great advocate of using breathing techniques to help individuals develop the ability to more effectively cope with the stressors that contribute to their anxiety. The act of yoga links breath with movement, thereby focusing your mind on the internal workings of your body. Whilst we draw awareness inwardly, with practice, we begin to harness the strength to quieten down the “chitter chatter” of the mind and work towards being in a calm, meditative state. Evidence indicates that mindfulness and meditation are effective forms of stress-relief. It is thought that mindfulness meditation has been found to attenuate pain through cognitive modulation of pain influenced by a number of factors ranging from attention, beliefs, conditioning, expectations, mood and the regulation of emotional responses to events[viii].
It is important to note that inverted postures should be avoided by those with extremely high or low blood pressure, or those with fragile necks. Although yoga is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, some postures, such are abdominal twists, should be avoided.