The number of people suffering from anxiety has doubled in the last five years and more women are affected than men, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). The survey found that 22% of women say they ‘feel anxious a lot of the time’. In an article about the MHF study in today’s Telegraph, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10825167/Anxiety-Are-you-anxious-most-of-the-time.html) Beth Murphy, head of information at UK mental health charity Mind, explains: “Anxiety’s a word we use in general to describe worry; it’s hard to know when it becomes something more significant. But in a more clinical sense to be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, it’s more than just a little bit of worry.”
Murphy goes on to describe the main symptoms of anxiety. They include: having an irregular heartbeat; a racing pulse; panic attacks; thoughts endlessly going around your head; having trouble sleeping; and not wanting to leave the house.
There are many reasons behind a person developing anxiety but I know from personal experience what a major factor alcohol was in the significant anxiety problems I once suffered with.
I haven’t had an anxiety attack for just over three years, which surprisingly enough aligns exactly with the period I have spent as a non-drinker. Prior to quitting alcohol I had at least one anxiety attack a week, always the day after a big boozy session, and something which I never attributed to drinking.
My heart would pound, I would sweat and I couldn’t breathe properly (this was the worst of the symptoms and was often so severe that I feared I might be dying of an asthma attack, even though I don’t suffer from asthma). Interacting with strangers in situations such as paying for bus fare or ordering in a café would spark off a chain reaction of nervy responses, culminating in a very real fear of having to speak to people I did not know unless I had a drink to hand.
During the last few years of my drinking life it became normal to avoid conversations with people whenever I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. I would avert my eyes and dip my head if I saw someone walking towards me who may have wanted to chat. I hid indoors for entire days when hungover because I couldn’t face the stress of having to speak to people. I often joked with friends, who were also heavy drinkers, about the struggles of ordinary encounters, how excruciating it was to have to hold a conversation with someone about the weather or some other triviality when dealing with a crippling hangover and trying to not show it.
My denial of the fact that I drank way too much resulted in me ignoring my anxiety issues. To face up to the fact that booze was behind these frightening attacks would have meant getting a handle on my alcohol dependency. And so, in order to subdue any fears or suspicions, I drank more.
The thing is that ever since I finished my last glass of wine in April 2011 I haven’t endured a single anxiety episode. I am in control of my senses. I do not fear everyday situations or conversations with well-meaning people who merely want to be friendly. I’ve known fear in that time, but I have addressed it and succeeded in calming myself down. I’ve been able to rationalise whatever has caused me to be scared.
I have discovered that I possess the ability to face my fears head on rather than hiding indoors, missing out on life, stagnating instead of growing, drinking away my emotions rather than listening to my intuition and acting on it.