By Kate Halim
Having occasional feelings of anxiety is a normal part of life, but people with anxiety disorders experience frequent and excessive anxiety, fear, terror and panic in everyday situations. In some cases, these feelings affect the quality of their lives and prevent them from functioning normally.
32-year-old Loveth Nwosu told Saturday Sun that her anxiety episodes started when she lost her job two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that fear of what would become of her life took over her thoughts daily. She revealed that she was used to fending for herself, making her money and living independently without seeking financial assistance from friends and family members. But everything changed when she lost her job.
“I started to criticize myself more. I blamed myself for losing my job. I felt I was useless and the fear of not knowing where to start making money from to stay financially afloat made my anxiety worse. It got to a point where every morning, I would start to beat myself up about not being good enough,” she added.
Nwosu said she couldn’t control all the negative self talk. She said she feels bad that even though her family members still support her whenever she asks them for money, she feels like she has become a burden to them and this makes her anxiety worse.
According to Nwosu who now sells jewelry and unboxed designer perfumes online, talking to people helps get her mind off her unending life issues. She stated that for a long time, she felt like she wasn’t good enough and working hard at her job made her feel useful and important. She confessed that she had lived in denial about her mental health for a while but she recently came to terms with what she was going through.
“I am taking things one step at a time now. I eat well and exercise five times a week. Opening up to people in my life has helped me manage my anxiety feelings better. I didn’t have to lie about how I was feeling anymore,”
Victoria Olaleye is suffering from post-natal anxiety since her son was born three years ago. She said that even though she looked forward to being a mother after she got married, she didn’t cope with motherhood as well as she thought she would.
Olaleye said: “Months after I gave birth to my son, I felt very lonely and on edge about everything. I was previously very social but since I became a mum, I felt anxious at the thought of going out anywhere. All I could think about was getting home to my son and making sure his routine wasn’t disrupted.”
The businesswoman, who is based in Lagos, said she didn’t think so much about how having a baby was affecting her mental health until she had her daughter last year and her anxiety episodes escalated. “I would yell if things didn’t go the way I thought they should. I was constantly worried about my children because I thought something bad was going to happen to them.”
Olaleye revealed that whatever she was doing, she kept thinking about the worst case scenario. She said things got so bad that she stopped taking her children out so that they wouldn’t be harmed and this eventually led to her suffering a nervous breakdown.
The mother of two added that sometimes, she would wake up in the middle of the night and play past scenarios or possible scenarios over and over again until she starts running out of breath.
Speaking further, she revealed that her anxiety affected her relationship with her husband because they argue a lot. She said that he doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or why she suddenly starts being stressful about something and then get angry at him for not supporting her.
“I try to manage it through exercise which does help to an extent, but after I had a huge meltdown two months ago, I’ve had a session with a psychologist who is helping me cope with my anxiety episodes,” Olaleye said.
Whenever Felix Gboko’s anxiety episodes start, he feels an intense adrenaline rush. He told Saturday Sun that whenever he starts getting worried about everything and brooding over things that probably won’t happen in his head, he starts shaking.
According to him, he also starts stuttering, he loses the ability to express himself well, he snaps at anyone close to him at that time and he also becomes aggressive. He also said that his heart feels like it’s going to burst out of his chest and then when it subsides, he becomes exhausted. He revealed that suffering from anxiety disorder is a constant roller coaster of mental exhaustion.
Gboko said: “I’ve been like this since I was a child and I never even knew how bad it was until I talked about my childhood experiences. I realised I had anxiety when I met with a psychologist four years ago.”
The young man confessed that he is not managing well with anxiety disorder and has lost good opportunities to better his life because of his mental condition. “I go through periods where I feel okay with it but if something unexpected happens, I’m back to struggling. I just feel like my anxiety is so deeply ingrained in me. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to not suffer from it every single day.”
And experts weigh in
A clinical psychologist, Patricia Chiegboka said that normal anxiety include worrying about bills, job interviews, tests or other important events. It also includes the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’ before a public performance or a big meeting.
Chiegboka also said that it is normal to have the fear of a dangerous object, place or situation, as well as sadness or worry immediately after a traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one.
On the other hand, Chiegboka revealed that anxiety disorder is worrying constantly and excessively for no apparent reason, making it difficult for someone to perform day-to-day activities. “Fearing any social or performance-related situations, in which you may be exposed to possible scrutiny by others. You fear that you will act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing. Irrational fear of an object or place, such as fear of entering an elevator, believing that an escape might be not possible. Repeated flashbacks, dreams and subsequent worry following exposure to an extremely traumatic event in the past are signs of anxiety disorder,” she said.
According to Chiegboka, everyone experiences feelings of anxiety, but if one’s feelings of worry and dread have a disabling effect on them over a period of time and affects their life and relationships, she advised that the person should seek help from a mental health professional.
She stated that there are many types of anxiety disorders but their most common symptoms are increased heart rate and heavy breathing, increased muscle tension, tightening sensation in the chest, unsubstantiated and growing worries and restlessness, and obsessing over needless things leading to compulsive behaviour.
A therapist, Agnes Omale stated that the most common factors that cause anxiety disorders are family history as people who have a history of mental health issues in the family may usually have problems with anxiety. She added that stress at the workplace, loss of a loved one, or troubled relationships can also trigger symptoms of anxiety.
Omale said that ailments such as thyroid problems, asthma, diabetes or a heart disease can also cause anxiety. She said that people suffering from depression can also develop symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Her words: “People who are heavy users of drugs, alcohol and other substances develop anxiety problems when the effects of the substance begin to wear off or when they are in withdrawal mode. Sometimes, people with certain personality traits such as perfectionists or people who like to be in control, develop anxiety-related issues.”
Coping with anxiety disorders
Omale disclosed that there are many skills which one can learn in order to manage anxiety. These, she noted, include positive thinking, stress management, leading a healthy lifestyle and relaxation. “Trying to manage anxiety by yourself can be challenging, especially if you are experiencing a lot of discomfort and unease. It’s always a good idea to reach out for professional advice in such cases.”
Omale listed some tips that can help people cope with anxiety disorders. The first tip is being physically active. According to her, if you are suffering from anxiety, you need to develop a routine so that you are physically active most days of the week.
“Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It can improve your mood and help you stay healthy. You need to start out slowly, and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities,” she said.
The second tip for coping positively with anxiety is avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs as well as quitting smoking. She said that substances like nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety. In addition, Omale noted that using stress management and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and visualisation techniques can ease anxiety.
Omale stated that people who are suffering from anxiety should make sleep a priority and do whatever they can to get enough sleep so as to feel rested. In addition to that, she said that a healthy diet which incorporates vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish reduces anxiety.
She revealed that another way to manage anxiety is to learn about anxiety disorder. “If you are always feeling anxious for no reason, you need to talk to a mental health to find out what might be causing your specific condition and what treatments might be best for you. You also need to involve your family and friends by asking for their support,” she said.
Omale noted that it is important for people to stick to their treatment plan if they are serious about getting better. She said that they have to take their medications as directed, keep therapy appointments and complete any assignments their therapist gives them, insisting that consistency can make a big difference when it comes to handling anxiety.
The mental health expert stated that one of the most important things to do when coping with anxiety is identifying the triggers. She added that people should learn what situations or actions cause them stress or increase their anxiety and then practise the strategies they developed with their mental health provider so that they are ready to deal with anxious feelings in these situations.
Lastly, Omale suggests that people living with anxiety disorder shouldn’t allow their constant worries and unexplained mood swings isolate them from their loved ones. She added that they need to socialise often even when they don’t feel like it because it helps control anxiety to an extent.