It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (15 – 21 May 2023), and this year’s theme is anxiety.
We all feel anxious from time to time, it’s a natural response to the uncertain world around us. But it’s important that we recognise and respond when we feel anxious, so that our anxiety doesn’t become overwhelming.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, usually in response to feeling threatened, under pressure or stressed, and it can be mild or severe. Feeling anxious can be perfectly normal, and there are lots of reasons why we get this feeling. It can be connected to a job, school, a relationship, social situations, how we feel about ourselves, or a change in our life.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can spur us on, help us stay alert, make us aware of risks and motivate us to solve problems. But some people find it hard to control their worries, and their feelings of anxiety are more constant and intense, so can often affect their daily lives.
Things like our genes, upbringing, environment and temperament all affect our mental health and influence how we think and respond to situations. External factors such as how well other parts of our life are going or how supported we feel also play a part. It mean everyone’s anxiety levels are different, and very personal. Some people find more situations stressful and experience more challenges in life than others, and they get more anxious as a result. Sometimes there are no obvious triggers for it and it’s difficult to know what causes anxiety, which can be upsetting or stressful in itself.
Anxiety can affect both your body and your mind. Physiological (mental) symptoms can include feeling tense or nervous, finding it hard to relax, feeling tearful or irritable, having difficulty concentrating or problems sleeping. Physical symptoms can include restlessness, dizziness, increased heart rate, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, breathlessness or chest pain.
You may also notice your behaviour changing, for example withdrawing from friends and family, unable to go to work or avoiding certain places. Some people with anxiety may appear to be fine on the outside while still having some of the symptoms as they have developed ways of hiding their anxiety so that other people don’t notice it.
How can you help yourself?
If we don’t know how to cope with our feelings of anxiety, they can get out of control and stop us from doing the things we need or want to do. The more often and the longer we feel anxious, the more it can become a problem.
Dealing with anxiety can be hard, but there are some things we can do to manage these tough feelings.
The Mental Health Foundation has a set of suggestions for things that can help cope with feelings of anxiety. These include getting active, connecting with nature and connecting with other people.
As part of Devon Climate Emergency Partnership, our Public Health team has come up with some suggestions on ways to improve your mental health, grouped around the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, while also taking care of the planet.
Good relationships and connecting with others is important to build a sense of belonging and self-worth, and give you an opportunity to share positive experiences.
Community Action Group (CAG) Devon support and empower community groups to act towards a more sustainable future. Check out their website for inspiration and ways to get involved in everything from repair cafes, surplus food cafes and compost workshops to litter picks, jumble trails, and clothes swaps.
The Devon Climate Emergency project is raising awareness and encouraging everyone to act to tackle climate change. Find out more about current projects and news on their website, and follow their social media for tips and ideas this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.
Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness: it can also boost your mood. And Devon has plenty to offer if you want to build a little more movement into your daily life.
Active Devon work together with local communities and partners to connect, advocate and enable people to move more. Active Devon offer fun and healthy ways to get and stay active with activities, campaigns and events for everyone.
Changing the way you travel can bring benefits to your wellbeing and the environment. If you are looking for top walking tips, local walking and cycling trails and car sharing opportunities then Travel Devon has it all.
Take a look at Explore Devon to make the most of the beaches, shorelines and estuaries, the moors, parks and woodlands, and discover the variety of wildlife, plants and animals that makes Devon the stunning county it is.
Learning new skills and doing new things can improve your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and helping you to build a sense of purpose.
The Devon Climate Emergency have top tips to help learn and understand what you can do about climate change and nature loss with effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Joining a Climate Café is a way to express and understand our feelings and emotions about climate change. The Climate Psychology Alliance host online cafes, or if you would like to attend a Climate Café in person you can find out about the Exeter Climate Café.
Acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings, a sense of reward and self-worth.
Volunteering can be a good way to give: even small amounts of time or support can make a difference.
The Devon Local Nature Partnership (LNP) collaborates with a huge range of partners who are committed to working together to restore Devon’s natural environment for people, wildlife and business. You can learn more about the wildlife you might find in Devon through the different volunteering opportunities available through the LNP.
Devon Connect is an online community hub, connecting people to their community and promoting social action. Search the Volunteering Opportunities page for a range of ways to get involved in a wide range of projects in your local communities.
Recycling and reusing are ways to give back to the environment. Recycle Devon have resources to help you try ways to reduce, reuse and recycle at home, in the garden and in schools.
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”.
Taking notice of the nature and wildlife around you while you are out walking or cycling is a good place to start. May is Devon’s Naturally Healthy Month, encouraging people to get outside. Find out more about opportunities to get involved, including their online webinars to learn more about the wildlife and nature you can spot from your doorstep. Wild About Devon is a local network to help guide and inspire community action for wildlife.
How can we help?
We are working as part of ‘One Devon’, a partnership of health and care organisations across the county, to improve the health, wellbeing and care of our communities.
There’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to mental health care and it’s not always easy for people to reach out and ask for the help they need. So we’ve commissioned a free and confidential digital mental health and wellbeing service for adults to access support on their own terms, and in a way they feel comfortable with.
It’s called ‘Qwell, and it’s delivered by mental health provider Kooth. It offers a safe online space for adults to access therapeutic activities, content such as self-help articles and a peer support community via forums and discussion boards that are moderated by a team of qualified practitioners who also offer a one-on-one live text chat and messaging counselling service.
Anyone over the age of 18 years old living in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay can access support from Qwell without a referral from a health professional. There is no criteria to qualify for support. To access the service, just visit the Qwell website, enter your postcode and complete a short registration process.
Children and young adults aged 11 to 18 years old across Devon already have access to the professional support Kooth.com offers for emotional wellbeing and mental health. To find out more about Kooth, visit their website.
What if you need more help?
If anxiety is severely affecting your everyday life, you should contact your GP who can offer additional support and help. No one should struggle alone.
There are different ways to treat and manage anxiety, and the right treatment for you will depend on your type of anxiety, how severe it is and your circumstances.
Your GP may offer you self-help resources such as workbooks or online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) courses. These are often available quite quickly and may be enough to help you feel better without trying other options.
You can also get free, confidential talking therapy on the NHS in Devon through TALKWORKS. They offer 1-to-1 sessions with a therapist (available face-to-face at one of their bases across Devon, over the phone or by video call), wellbeing workshops, group therapy sessions, online self-help (available 24 hours a day) and live text-based therapy (from 6am – 11pm, 7 days a week).
There are also different medications available to manage both the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Talk to your GP about which one might be right for you.
- Contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: email@example.com if you need someone to talk to
- Consider peer support, where people use their experiences to help each other. Find out more about peer support on the Mind website
- Listen to free mental wellbeing audio guides
- Mental Health Matters Devon provides a 24 hour, 365 days a year mental health helpline by calling 0800 4700317.
- Sign up to receive the NHS Every Mind Matters anxiety-easing-emails for expert advice and practical tips
- Check out Reading Well’s list of books on mental health, which are available for free from your local library
Ways to find out more
Follow these social media accounts discover more ways Devon’s natural environment can help with mental health this week and every week.
|Devon County Council||OfficialDevonCC|
|Devon Climate Emergency||DevonClimateEmergency|
|Devon Local Nature Partnership||DevonLNP|