It may be that what we can do on our own is not enough. We may find it hard to be open about our fears and anxieties and take up help from people we don’t yet know or trust. But it may also be an enormous relief to stop putting on a brave face and to find that we can be helped.
These are various sources of support available to people who experience anxiety, each offering different kinds of help. It’s worth contacting the organisations listed later to find out what is available in your area.
Many people go to their family doctor when they first experience the symptoms of anxiety. It is important to have a medical check-up to rule out any physical cause of the symptoms. Your doctor is likely to treat you him- or herself, although they may suggest you see a psychologist or a psychiatrist for specialist help.
Treatment may involve a course of antidepressants or tranquillisers. If you are having difficulty sleeping, your doctor may also prescribe sleeping pills.
Antidepressants take 2-4 weeks to have any effect so you should not give up too quickly if you don’t feel better straight away. They do not cure depression, but can lighten your mood so you feel more able to cope. They work for many people, but not everyone. There can be unpleasant side-effects such as a dry mouth, drowsiness or constipation.
Doctors generally only prescribe tranquillisers for a few weeks. They can offer some relief and can be helpful to get through a crisis, but longer-term, regular use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Tranquillisers can make you lethargic. You may find you feel detached from everything and unable to concentrate.
It is important you get your doctor to explain the treatment offered. You are entitled to information about the likely benefits and side-effects of each drug prescribed. You may also want to talk about alternatives to drug treatment, such as counselling, therapy or self-help. Your doctor may be able to put you in touch with these other sources of help.
Counselling and therapy
Counselling and therapy are sometimes called ‘talking treatments’ because they give people a chance to talk through their difficulties. Therapy—of which there are many types—tends to be more intensive and longer term. It generally aims to help someone understand and come to terms with their anxiety and its causes. In therapy, someone may be helped to look at how past events in their life have influenced their present circumstances.
Counselling often focuses more on present day feelings. It provides an opportunity for someone to share how they feel and get a different perspective on their difficulties.
In either it is important we find someone we can trust and relate to. A counsellor or therapist may be able to help us learn how to control our anxiety. They may use relaxation training or they may use other techniques to help us alter our compulsive behaviour or obsessional thoughts.
A lot can be gained from meeting with other people who have similar experiences of anxiety. Suddenly we find we are no longer alone—here are other people who really do know and understand our distress.
It’s been a life-saver for me coming here. The others gave me lots of reassurance. They were very patient. I felt better just because I was able to talk about things openly.
Self-help groups can provide a lot of moral support and encouragement. They may also offer advice and training in relaxation and information on complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and homeopathy. Some people find these very useful, although you may find you have to pay for them.