I’m sitting here now wondering what I should write for this blog.

I could not think of a thing.

I then remembered I had a deadline to get this done and then WHOOMPH my stomach sank, and I felt very anxious.  It was at that point that the light bulb went on, and I had my topic.

What is being anxious? And what is an anxiety disorder?  As soon as I had my thought process, my feelings of butterflies went away, and I was on a role.

Feeling anxious is a perfectly normal feeling to have; it goes back generations and is associated with the flight, fight or freeze response (FFF). FFF is an automatic response to danger, and it helps us protect ourselves.

The hormones released when we are experiencing ‘FFF’ will make the heart pump quicker and then send the blood to where it is needed most.  This helps to make us more alert and respond to the situation.  Once the situation is over, other hormones are released to help us relax.  We have no control over this.

As a trainer, I feel anxious before every course I deliver, before I step into the room I feel nervous, I feel like I don’t know my subject and I feel like I do not belong.

In the years, I have been doing the job I have learned that this feeling is what helps me stay focused and learn my subject.  However, this is not the same for all, but most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our life.

If somebody is brave enough to reveal their feelings, it is important to listen in a non-judgmental way.

Just think how you felt when you had to do one of the following:

  •    Tell your parents you were leaving home
  •    Your first job interview
  •    Your first day in a new job
  •    Your first driving test
  •    Walking home late at night on your own

There are so many other things I could have put in this blog that have made us feel this way, but we don’t have enough space to write them all.

So, what is the difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety becomes a mental health problem when:

  •    The feelings of anxiety are strong and last for a long time
  •    When your worries and fears are not proportional to the situation
  •    When your worries are hard to control
  •    You start to avoid situations that make you anxious
  •    Regular experiences of anxiety or panic attacks
  •    You find it hard to carry on with daily life

There are around 9 different types of anxiety disorder.  From a Mental Health First Aid point of view, we are not there to diagnose.  Our job is to recognise that there may be a problem and talk to the person.  We can then help to signpost them to the professional help they may need.

Some symptoms that may come out during talking are:

  •    Worrying about being anxious
  •    Feeling like your losing touch with the world
  •    Feeling disconnected from your own body
  •    Feeling like you are on a ride that is going fast or very slow

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing, allow silence and let them fill the gap, try to ask open questions.

What is the difference between a sign and a symptom?

A sign is something that you can see.  Let’s look back at the first bullet points. You may notice that a person has stopped going out into social situations. When somebody is talking to you about a specific issue and you sense that they are worrying too much about the problem.

There may be a change in personal appearance or hygiene.  These are all signs.  Symptoms are feelings a person may have.  In physical first aid, they say “an unconscious person has no symptoms” this could be said for Mental Health First Aid.  They may be conscious, but if they are not talking about their issues or nobody is listening to them, their symptoms will go unnoticed and more worryingly, untreated.

If somebody is brave enough to reveal their feelings, it is important to listen in a non-judgmental way.  We have said they may be worrying irrationally about a subject.  Although it is not a big deal to you, it is to them.  You mustn’t tell them to stop being ‘silly’.  They are not silly; they are themselves.

Remember, we can not help the way we feel. Anxiety disorders can be due to genetics, brain chemistry, personality and other influences. We need to listen and help find out what is causing the issue.  It could be a deadline at work, a family member may be ill, a newborn is on the way, and they are anxious about coping.

When talking, it is important to choose the right time.  It is unlikely that somebody is going to open in a busy canteen or on a packed train. Always respect the person’s privacy. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing, allow silence and let them fill the gap, try to ask open questions.

These are questions that require a response. Do you feel OK?  This is a closed question.  This allows them to say yes or no, but what have you learnt from this?  It may be better to ask, how are you feeling?  This means they will need to talk to you.  You will be able to hold a conversation better.  Try to repeat relevant phrases to show you are listening.

A Mental Health First Aider is not a doctor, psychiatrist or nurse but they are somebody who is on the front line of Mental Health issues with training on how to spot the signs and symptoms of those who are suffering.  They are not there to cure a person, but they are there to help signpost them to professional help, but most importantly, they are there to let others know they are not alone.

This blog does not constitute training. Please click the link below for our up and coming courses and remember it’s OK not to be OK.