Mental Health Awareness Week takes place between the 15th to the 21st of May in the UK. This year the theme is anxiety which can affect us all at some point in our lives and disrupt our physical and mental well-being.
Anxiety disorders have a strong association with sleeping problems. According to the Sleep Foundation, the relationship between mental health and sleep is bidirectional. This means mental health disorders tend to affect sleep and at the same time, poor or lack of sleep can be a factor contributing to the initiation or worsening of mental health issues.
What is anxiety?
The NHS defines anxiety as ‘a feeling of unease such a worry or fear that can be mild or severe.’ The Mental Health Foundation also says that ‘anxiety might make you feel tense or nervous, find it hard to relax, feel tearful or have problems sleeping and concentrating.’
How anxiety can affect your sleep?
Constantly being worried and fearing situations contribute to a state of hyperarousal in which the mind is in acute stress response, and this is believed to be a main factor contributing to insomnia. Also, sleep problems may become an added source of worry, creating anxiety before bedtime which makes it harder to fall asleep.
What can you do to improve your sleep if you are feeling anxious?
As mentioned, mental health conditions can disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep can affect mental health. This makes for complex connections between sleep and mental health problems, but it also means that treatment for both issues can go hand-in-hand. Improving your sleep can form part of a preventive mental health strategy.
It is important to consider that every individual’s situation is different, so the right treatment for mental health and sleep problems depends on the person. Because these conditions can have a major impact on quality of life, it’s important to receive proper care, which entails working with a trained health professional. Saying this, we have gathered 9 actions recommended by the Mental Health Foundation which you can take to cope with anxiety:
- Focus on your breathing – Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through your nose counting to 4 in your head. Hold your breath counting to 7 and breathe out through your mouth counting to 8. Repeat for a total of 4 cycles.
- Get moving – Exercise is a great way to manage anxiety. You can even try gentle stretches, yoga, and seated exercises.
- Keep a diary – Make sure to give yourself some time to write down what’s happening in your life and how is this affecting you. You can make it part of your daily routine by having a moment every morning to sit down and write about what is worrying you.
- Challenge your thoughts – Avoid ruminating which is the action of going over and over again about things in your head. We all do this, but you can try to avoid it by challenging those disruptive thoughts with questions such as ‘Is what is worrying me likely to happen.
- Get support for money worries – If you are worried about being able to pay the bills, paying a debt, or the current cost-of-living-crisis seek help. Read more on how to cope with the cost-of-living-crisis
- Spend time in nature – Spending time surrounded by nature will help you feel calmer and less stressed. Go to your local park for a walk and try to immerse yourself in nature.
- Connect with people and talk about how you feel – Make an effort to connect with friends when you are feeling lonely. You can also connect with people through activities, such as volunteering, social clubs, and sports. Talking to people about how you are feeling will help you reduce your anxiety.
- Try to get some quality sleep or rest – This might prove to be difficult when you are feeling anxious but you can try writing down your thoughts in your diary. Also, try getting up and having a drink without caffeine, and wait until you are feeling a bit more tired before going back to bed.
- Try to eat a healthy diet –Some times is easier to default to sugary snacks and fast food in our busy lifestyles but eating healthy food regularly helps us to regulate our blood sugar and gives us the energy we need to live well. Avoid drinking alcohol, too much caffeine, and fizzy drinks as they can affect your mood.
For more information please visit The Mental Health Foundation
Contact your GP if anxiety is severely affecting your everyday life. No one should struggle alone.