Anxiety: When Will my Heart Stop Racing, and my Knees Stop Shaking?

Anxiety Disorder is a rapidly growing mental health issue that needs to be treated like one. Joyce Scully from the Out and About Association, speaks about the severity of this disorder and what her association has to offer people struggling.

As Anxiety Disorder grows, the risk of what to do for support is rising, as many don’t understand this mental health issue or don’t see it as one, but rather a type of personality or as shyness. According to St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, it is estimated that 1 in 9 individuals will suffer a primary anxiety disorder over their lifetime. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress but when the anxiety gets too intense this disorder can cause people to avoid situations that trigger them. Their job performance, school work and personal relationships can be affected.

The Out and About Association (OANDA) is an anxiety resource centre set up to help anyone who is suffering from panic attacks, anxiety, social phobias or agoraphobia. They have offices in Dublin and Cork, running workshops in different locations around the country. “It was set up because the founder, Morrny Murrihy, noticed a gap in the delivery of services of people who suffered from anxiety conditions” said Joyce Scully, Psychotherapist at OANDA.

Joyce explained how she would define anxiety “some people, not clients say sure I was anxious before my driving test or sure I was anxious giving that speech”, Scully laughs and states “Well no-one knows daily what my clients have to go through”. She claims her “clients put on the biggest masks every day” and that every individual needs a certain amount of anxiety, but having anxiety disorder is when the anxiety becomes too intense or occurs in situations where no real challenge or danger exists.

Joyce explains “a person may feel that something terrible may happen, for example, that they may lose control, faint or even have a heart attack, I cannot count the number of my clients who have presented in accident and emergency with symptoms that resemble a heart attack”, she continues to point out that “individuals feel very self-conscious and worried that other people will notice their distress” because of this anxiety sufferers often avoid the situations that makes them feel that way.

OANDA offers the opportunity for the client to understand their condition and put in place learning solutions to manage their condition. Oanda run information sessions and workshops in different locations around the country, you also have the opportunity to inquire by a contact form for help, they also put on events from time to time. Joyce explains “in Oanda we understand that every person who comes through the door has taken a big step”.

There have been many treatment methods for anxiety, Joyce uses Mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is designed to help people who suffer repeated bouts of depression and chronic unhappness. It combines the ideas of cognitive therapy with meditative practices and attitudes based on the cultivation of the mindfulness.

This type of therapy helps indviduals better understand and manage their thoughts and emotions in order to achieve relief from feelings or distress. She offers relaxation and mindfulness exercises to create habits that will be beneficial in the long run.

Scully describes how it begins, we are “Sitting down and developing a rapport in a trusting and safe therapeutic capsule which is vital for my clients, so we look first at anxiety and educate our clients about what is going on in their body”. She mentions that a great deal of help is focused towards helping the individual confront situations where their anxiety would arise. She also mentions relaxation is very important, as it is hard to come by for someone with anxiety as they have a constant and fast mind, it’s important to give them a break from what goes on 24/7 in their mind.

Scully encourages her clients to keep journals and write down little things that happen during their day, “it doesn’t matter how small, every random act of kindness, I encourage whole heartedly for them to record it”. She will help people confront their past ‘unfinished business’ she gives the example “with a person who has bullied them or been unkind, we can explore the option of writing a letter, my client can read it aloud in our next session”. They then shred or burn it, which assists the client moving on with their life and taking their power away from somebody who has hurt them.

According to Joyce there is not one type of person or age group that will suffer from AD.“I have people from eighteen years to their mid-seventies now”. The most common type of anxiety she sees is ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive or disproportionate anxiety about several aspects of life, such as work, social relationships or financial matters. Joyce works with her clients in a holistic way. She goes as far to look at a person’s diet, trying to help them cut out sugar. It “causes a sugar rush which then is followed by a dip in blood sugar levels which can make an individual feel very anxious”.

Joyce explains that anxiety is thought of as shyness and is not taking serously as a mental health issue. Joyce says “No, anxiety is not understood at all by the public or by people in government”, she continued on to state that she sees anxiety as “on the lowest rung of their ladder” and that part of it is down to phrases like “ah she is just sensitive” or “look at her blushing-so cute”. She said, “The public can be very insensitive and people living with anxiety are the most courageous individuals” she has had the pleasure of working with.

Anxiety can often be caused by trauma, whether it be bullying, sexual abuse, a lack of love as a child. Any of these situations will make an individual lack trust in other individuals which can lead to mental health issues, specifically anxiety. Scully says, “I have had many clients come to me presenting with anxiety and then it emerges that sexual abuse has taken place, and this can destroy an individuals’ life”.

When talking about a cure to anxiety, Scully told me that we live in a microwave society. That there is no microwave cure for anxiety and in recent times a lot more people are affected by stress, panic and anxiety because of the intense economic pressures. Scully explains “I say with my hand on my heart to all my clients that the work they do with me, indeed the work they do on themselves is the hardest work they will ever have to do and, yet it will be the most rewarding and challenging work of their lives”.

Scully has had many successful cases as a psychotherapist, a client with social phobia who was living with her partner feared going out. Scully said, “we explored a lot of options and since this client was not working, a possibility of adopting a rescue dog came up and my client did just that, now she is out every day with her dog and it had opened up her world”. Scully further explained that we don’t just rescue pets, they rescue us with their unconditional love.

Anxiety disorder is certainly one of the hardest mental conditions to comprehend. Scully thinks the reason for this is “it stems from our stigma in Ireland in all mental health conditions, anxiety is hardest to understand as it is brushed under the carpet and rarely spoken of”.

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