Do You Have Low-Level Anxiety?
Do You Have Low-Level Anxiety?

Do You Have Low-Level Anxiety?

All of us feel stressed from time to time. But for some, prolonged periods of stress can take their toll, leading to what experts now refer to as low-level anxiety. In light of National Stress Awareness Day, we asked two mental health experts to share their advice for getting on top of stress and how to support your own wellbeing when it all feels a bit too much…
By Tor West

What exactly is low-level anxiety & what are the most common symptoms?

“Low-level anxiety is that sense of feeling constantly ‘on edge’. Common symptoms include feeling like you can’t sit still; waking up in the morning with a very busy mind, and having a racing mind in the evening when you’d usually feel like winding down; feeling like you ‘should’ always be doing something; worrying more than usual, especially over situations you wouldn’t think too much about; and physically, you may feel more nervous, experience increased hunger or suppressed appetite, and be unable to relax.” – Sophie Belle, founder of Mind You Club

How common is this form of anxiety?

“It’s tricky to pinpoint an exact figure, as many who experience low-level anxiety may not report it. According to Mental Health UK, over 8 million people in the UK are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time. However, there will be many who don’t deem their low-level anxiety enough of a concern to seek a diagnosis, and those who find it tricky to open up about their anxiety, and therefore don’t speak to a doctor.” – Anna Mathur, psychotherapist

Anxiety isn’t necessarily a BAD THING, but the CHALLENGE COMES when our anxiety mechanism is TRIGGERED OFTEN.

Are we all anxious to some extent?

“Anxiety is a mechanism that exists to keep us safe. It fuels us with alertness and the hormones required for quick and potentially life-saving responses. So, anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the challenge comes when our anxiety mechanism is triggered often, and sometimes by things that aren’t actually a tangible threat to us in that moment.” – Anna

Are some people more likely to get it than others?

“The common theme with anxiety in general, is that someone’s resources have become depleted over time, and they have experienced either a stress or have been in fight/flight mode over a period of time, so their body isn’t able to naturally rebalance. Low-level anxiety is the beginning of this cycle. Usually those with low-level anxiety have gone through a sustained period of change or pressure in their lives, e.g. a new mum, someone who has been promoted in their job and is experiencing high levels of pressure, or someone who has moved house. It can easily happen to someone who has historically been resilient to stress but for months hasn’t been able to get back into a balanced physical state. It’s often the case that they are entirely unaware of this need to rebalance.” – Sophie 

“Those who find it hard to engage in rest and self-care may find themselves more likely to struggle with low-level anxiety. Those who are chronically stressed or depleted, such as those in stressful, high-pressure jobs, or parenting/caring roles, might find that their anxiety levels feel raised. It takes energy and intention to help rationalise and ground our anxious thoughts, which can be challenging for those who lack energy and resources.” – Anna

What’s the difference between stress and low-level anxiety?

“Stress comes and goes with the circumstance and is often easier to attribute to something tangible. For example, you might feel stressed that you are going to run late, because your bus isn’t running on time. The stress fuels you to feel alert and energised. Once you arrive at your destination, the stress will dissipate. Anxiety, however, may spike at a thought, or find you feeling fearful of something that hasn’t happened and may not happen. You might find yourself feeling anxious at night when others are asleep, as you think about a negative or difficult potential scenario. This is the kind of anxiety that robs you of your peace, your sleep and your joy. And it deserves insight and support.” – Anna

What’s the science behind it?

“The vagus nerve is the biggest nerve in the body that runs from the brain to your main organs. Its job is to signal to your entire body that everything is safe. When we have strong ‘vagal tone’, our body functions as it should. As stress levels increase, more cortisol gets released into the body, throwing our systems out of balance. Heightened tension weakens the vagus nerve and it then doesn’t have the space to work as it should, so we then go into a constant state of panic and anxiety, where it takes more work to get on top of the anxiety we feel.” – Sophie

According to Mental Health UK, over 8 MILLION PEOPLE in the UK are experiencing an ANXIETY DISORDER at any one time.

What are the consequences of not dealing with this type of anxiety?

“Anxiety, like many other mental health challenges, exists on a continuum. If we don’t tweak things to address the cause, or seek support, we can find it fluctuating along with the stresses and strains of life. You might have a low-level of anxiety that goes unaddressed, and it picks up intensity as you go through a challenging or stressful situation. It's so important to monitor anxiety, and if you can, just make a note each day or week in your phone or journal. It can creep up slowly, so monitoring it ensures you can keep tabs on your anxiety levels, and see any patterns or dips emerge.” – Anna

What are some practical ways to bring the body back into balance?

Reduce Stimulation: “It’s important to consciously make time to restore your body and rest your mind – this is vital in today’s fast-paced, always-on world. There are some really easy ways that we can live in a balanced state of being, through removing ‘dangers’ and finding ways to relax. Try and reduce time spent on your phone – it’s especially important to give yourself screen-free time first thing in the morning and the evening.” – Sophie

Breathe Properly: “Over 70% of us don’t breathe properly because we spend so much time in fight/flight mode and are therefore over breathing, creating tension in our respiratory system and restricting the amount of oxygen our vital organs receive. Ensure you are breathing in and out through your nose, breathing into your diaphragm and relaxing your shoulders so you aren’t shallow breathing into your chest.” – Sophie

Speak To Others: “It’s important to have two to three people in your life who know how you are feeling. It can be tricky to talk about anxiety but having a good support network is important for everyone, regardless of where you’re at in your mental health journey.” – Anna

Practise Breathwork: “Consciously breathing for three to five minutes daily is scientifically proven to increase vagal tone and improve your stress response. Try breathing in for a count of four, holding for seven counts and then breathing out for eight counts. Get into the habit of doing this for a few minutes while you’re commuting, at your desk or making lunch. This will instil a real sense of calm.” – Sophie  

Ground Yourself In The Present: “Anxiety is triggered when we focus on negative, future unknowns and uncertainties. The more we think about a fearful scenario, the more our body and nervous system will respond with physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, stress hormones and panic attacks. You can interrupt this process by stopping the whirlwind of your thoughts in their tracks. For example, try counting backwards from 100 in threes; or name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Even a gentle walk outside, breathing deeply and playing close attention to what you can see can make a huge difference. Employ these techniques as soon as you feel your mind begin to overthink. Practise them as you fall asleep and use them when you don’t need them so that when you do, they feel familiar and instinctive.” – Anna

Where can you get help?

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very helpful for those experiencing low-level anxiety. You can access this via your GP, who can refer you for face-to-face, group or online sessions (dependent on availability and local offering). The Mind website also has lots of great self-help tools. What form of therapy is the most effective or suitable will depend on the individual, the cause and intensity of the anxiety. Just remember that something is always better than nothing. And where there is help, there is hope. So, pick an option or access point that suits you to begin with, and if it doesn’t feel to be helping, explore further options. If you have been through trauma or difficult circumstances that you believe might be fuelling your anxiety, I highly recommend counselling or psychotherapy. You can get a referral from your doctor or seek The Counselling Directory website to find therapists locally to you.” – Anna

For more information and support, visit & Anna’s Reframing Anxiety Course, which aims to transform your understanding of anxiety in ten minutes per day for three weeks, costs £12 and is available to download here.

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