This Mental Health Week, carve out some time to check in on a friend and see how they're feeling. Unlike if a friend of yours is constantly sneezing or shivering while standing beside the radiator, it's less easy to spot the signs of being mentally unwell. The symptoms are far harder to pick up on.
While we all like to tell someone that we’re feeling a little under the weather, when it comes to our mental health, we aren’t as forthcoming. And it’s not hard to see why. Despite ongoing efforts by many to encourage people to talk about their mental health, a lot of people simply aren’t comfortable expressing how they feel.
Research by the mental health charity Mind shows that four out of five 18-34-year-olds admit to putting on a brave face when they feel anxious.
Everyone from time to time gets anxious and you don’t always have to tell the world how you are feeling. Anxiety levels creeping up over next week’s work presentation? Don’t worry, it’s normal and will eventually pass. But there are many people who live with anxiety day in day out, who may not exhibit clear signs and symptoms. Worst still, they won’t tell you how they are feeling, which could lead to more complicated mental health issues further down the line.
Now, we’re not asking you to become a mental health investigator, but by being able to pick up on the signs may make it easier for you to talk to friends, understand why they might be acting out of character and make yourself more approachable. You may even notice some of these symptoms within yourself.
Disrupted Sleep (complaining they are always tired)
The world is tired – we simply aren’t getting enough sleep. But being constantly tired could be a sign of anxiety. People suffering from anxiety often don’t sleep well because their bodies over produce adrenaline, prompting their body into fight mode. Anxiety is also worse at night, according to Anxiety UK, as there are less distractions which will affect sleeping patterns. Frequent nightmares or night terrors are also signs of anxiousness.
If your friend is often running late, forgetting things which they normally wouldn’t forget and is having difficulty following a conversation, then they could be suffering from anxiety. When a person is anxious, they can be prone to ruminating over negative situations, which can contribute to difficulty focusing.
A lot of people who suffer from anxiety will be unable to eat as they have little to no appetite. At the other end of the scale, some people will binge as a way of numbing feelings of anxiousness.
“Eating disorders commonly co-occur with anxiety disorders,” states the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “For those who have an anxiety disorder, a co-occurring eating disorder may make their symptoms worse and recovery more difficult.”
A clear sign that someone may be suffering from anxiety is social isolation. If a friend of yours, who used to be the life and soul of the party, is now spending more time alone, something could be up.
Rachel Boyd, information manager at Mind, says that anxiety sufferers may find they feel like running away or escaping, or spending lots of time and energy working out how to avoid anxious situations.
Just because someone might be experiencing one of these signs doesn’t mean they are suffering from anxiety. Speak to them, ask them how they feel.
Excessive need for reassurance
Look, we all want to be loved, but those suffering from high levels of anxiety may also be experiencing many other psychological symptoms such as nervousness, stress and low confidence.
“You may notice that someone asks you for lots of reassurance or seems much less confident about things they’d normally be ok with,” says Boyd.
While anxiety is classed as a mental illness, it can affect you physically. For example, panic attacks can result in chest pains and a shortness of breath. Anxiety can also heighten your stress levels causing skin problems such as eczema and digestions issues such as diarrhoea.
Anxiety and illness can feed off each other, too. For some, the focus of anxiety might be physical health, meaning they spend lots of time worrying that they may have a serious illness or feeling very conscious of any physical health problems.
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