It’s cold, it’s wet, winter is on its way and it’s getting darker for longer. Seasonally Adjusted Disorder aside, there’s a lot to feel down about this month but there is also a lot you can do about it as, mental health and wellbeing-wise, there’s quite a bit going on this October. Not only do we have World Mental Health Day, but we also have that perennial NHS stop smoking initiative, Stoptober. Stopping smoking will do wonders, not only for your physical health but also for your mental health. But, what exactly is the link between smoking and mental health?
Most people who smoke say smoking relaxes them but it can’t. It just can’t. Nicotine is a stimulant you see, not a relaxant. Smoke too much and you become over stimulated and more prone, therefore, to stress and anxiety. Studies have also shown that, over time, smokers are more likely to become depressed than non-smokers.
When you quit the fags, however, you’re more likely to feel more calm and positive. There’s a strong correlation between quitting and improved life satisfaction levels. You’ll feel more in control for a start. Some studies have suggested that the beneficial effects of stopping smoking on anxiety and depression can equal that of medications often prescribed for the two conditions.
By the by hypnotherapy (of which I am both a proponent and a practitioner) is one of the more successful methods for stopping smoking.
World Mental Health Day, meanwhile, is an opportunity for us all, at both a professional (i.e., at work) and personal level (i.e. in our day-to-day lives), to increase awareness of and decrease the stigma attached to mental health issues.
I personally would like to get to the point where going for a mental health check up is seen as just as important and just as routine as going to the doctors or the dentists.
Held every year on 10 October, the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide (and more importantly) suicide prevention.
Every year 80,000 people around the world take their own life and many more attempt it. Here in the UK, it is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years.
Do you have a mental health advocate where you work? If so, ask them what they have planned for the day.
Or perhaps, think about what you can do to help.
As a rule, I tend to specialise in the areas of anxiety disorders and work-related stress management. Between the two, I cover a multitude of sins. And, but sins I mean I help people deal with a series of emotional and behavioural problems that have them thinking, feeling and acting in ways that they don’t like but don’t seem to be able to change.
The term ‘anxiety disorder’ on it’s own could mean any one of several things up to and including, but not limited to panic attacks and panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosexual dysfunction, health anxiety and any and all types of phobias.
Broadly speaking, anxiety is your response to danger; it’s the fight, flight (or freeze, for those of you who experience brain lock) response to a threat or a danger. However, this response is being triggered in situations that aren’t that dangerous. Coming across a hungry lion whilst walking down your street is very dangerous, whereas sitting an exam is not. However, if you have anxiety, the same thoughts and feelings are being triggered in the face of an exam as they are when confronted by that hungry lion.
Anxiety problems are the number one presenting symptom here in the United Kingdom
Panic attacks are an extreme type of fear response. They are an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement. They’re not much fun
This is where you have regular or frequent panic attacks that don’t seem to have a specific cause or trigger. It can mean that you are so afraid of having another panic attack that the fear itself can bring on a panic attack. Not good.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This is where your fear response is being triggered by social situations, such as pubs and parties, work and networking events. Basically, anywhere you have to talk to another person. This is also known as social phobia and it’s more common than you think.
Pity the person who is living with this condition, for they are experiencing regular or uncontrollable worries about many different things across most aspects of everyday life. It could be that there are many, many triggers or no specific trigger at all, making GAD a tricky little bugger to pin down.
This problem is made up of two parts, an obsession and a compulsion. Obsessions are unwelcome and intrusive thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. The compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel compelled to do in order to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be checking that a door is locked, or repeating a specific phrase in your head and so on. Some people have what is known as ‘Pure O’ where they have the obsession but not the compulsion. This does not make it any less distressing.
This is an anxiety problem that gets diagnosed after you have gone through something that you found traumatic. A close brush with death or a violent attack on you or someone near you can do it. PTSD can cause flashbacks and nightmares that make you feel like you are reliving the fear and anxiety you experienced during the traumatic event again and again. Who said the mind isn’t your best friend?
When related to anxiety, psychosexual dysfunction is the inability to become sexual aroused or achieve sexual satisfaction because you are afraid of something happening or something going wrong. The problem is not physiological it is psychological. It can affect both men and women and, obviously can be quite miserable and debilitating.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this means anxiety about your health. You will have an obsessive preoccupation with the idea that you have (or are about to develop) an illness. Common health obsessions including cancer, heart health, HIV and so on, but people can become preoccupied with any condition. Behaviours include researching symptoms, constant checking to see if you have them and many, many, many visits to your local GP.
A phobia is an extreme form of anxiety that can be triggered by a particular situation or object, even when there is no danger. The sufferer knows that their reaction is out of proportion to the danger but they just can’t stop themselves. People can becoming phobic about anything and everything: spiders, mice, lifts, heights, thunder and lightning, buttons, ships, you name it.
Other anxiety problems include performance anxiety (stage fright and exam fears, for instance), body dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and more.
Thankfully, all forms of CBT are considered the gold standard of treatment for anxiety disorders. Hypnotherapy is also a highly effective adjunct to CBT. So, if you need to find a therapist to help you with your anxiety, look for someone who has CBT skills, or hypnotherapy skills, or both.
Obviously, there is quite a lot to digest here so I’ll leave the heady world of work-related stress (the number one cause of staff absenteeism) until next time.
Almost all human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. This is a bit of a bummer when you think about it. Enter then, positive psychology, which is the science of thinking, feeling and acting yourself into a happier state of mind. Want to know more? Read more