Recognising anxiety

Encouraging awareness and action

Encouraging awareness and action

Each May, we acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Week (15 – 21 May).

This year the theme is anxiety, and how it affects people living with severe mental illness.

For people already living with a mental health issue, the effects of anxiety can reach much farther.

Less than 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder access treatment, according to Champion Health.

Anxiety can be triggered by a range of internal and external factors, and it’s important to know what we can do to support our colleagues and peers living with anxiety.

What is anxiety?

NHSinform describes anxiety as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.”

Champion Health adds “(it) is a future-oriented state of mind, characterised by feelings of fear, worry or general unease.”

While many people will experience feelings of anxiety in their lives, these feelings will affect some people every day.

Anxiety can be diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or be a symptom of several conditions such as:

  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias, such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

According to the NHS, GAD is most common in people aged between 35 and 55.

How to recognise anxiety

Anxiety is a condition which can cause physical and mental symptoms, affecting each person differently.

Over an extended period, the symptoms can have a lasting impact on your daily life.

Mental Health UK gives a detailed list of the symptoms people with anxiety can live with.

Mental symptoms include:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Uncontrollable over-thinking
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of dread, panic or ‘impending doom’
  • Feeling irritable
  • Heightened alertness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Wanting to escape from the situation you are in
  • Dissociation (feeling like you aren’t connected to your own body, watching things happen around you without feeling it)

Physical symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Heavy and fast breathing
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Hot flushes and blushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme tiredness or lack of energy
  • Headaches, dizziness and fainting
  • Stomach aches, nausea and sickness

Why it’s important

More people are being affected by anxiety and less are speaking up or seeking help.

Research from the British Journal of Psychiatry has revealed rates of anxiety have skyrocketed in the UK.

Between 1998 and 2018 the rate(s) of anxiety:

  • Were higher across the board for women than men:
    • In 18–24-year-old women the rate tripled and more than doubled for men.
    • In 25–35-year-old women the rate doubled and nearly doubled for men.
  • Have shown significant increases in generalised anxiety rates for women aged up to 54 years since 2014.

Even today, Champion Health’s Workplace Health Report 2022 are showing some prevalent impacts anxiety is having on our lives at work.

  • 58% of employees are experiencing anxiety
  • 34% of employees experiencing anxiety are aged 25-34
  • 62% of employees experiencing anxiety are female
  • Only 9% of employees are seeking mental health support

Having awareness of anxiety is only half of the solution.

Awareness must go hand in hand with action when we recognise the symptoms.

How you can support people with anxiety / how you can (actually) help

While uncertainty is a normal part of life

Approximately one in 10 UK employees live with GAD.

Depression is the next most diagnosed, along with social anxiety, according to research by Champion Health.

They suggest several ways to support your employees and colleagues:

  • Bringing up mental health in 1:1s and staff appraisals.
  • Research can help you tailor your approach – e.g. younger employees (aged between 25 and 34) are particularly affected by workplace stress. Workplace stress affects more women than men. When you recognise the different pressure faced by different demographics, you can more effectively address them.
  • Taking steps to reduce workplace stress. Ensure your employees know what flexibility or work options are available to them.
  • Many people are not seeking mental health support. Signposting towards internal wellbeing offerings and external support services – e.g. Employee Assistance Programs, support lines, support for managers.