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  • Stress and anxiety enquiries to UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services up 55% since 2019
  • Inquiries up by nearly a third in February 2022 compared to February 2021
  • WHO says the pandemic increased levels of stress and anxiety across the world
  • Priory expert offers advice for managing stress and anxiety

The number of people seeking help from Priory mental health experts for their stress and anxiety is continuing to rise sharply.

Priory, the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services, saw a 55% increase in the numbers seeking help with stress or anxiety between 2019 and 2021. In February this year, the last month for which data is available, there was a 32% rise compared to the same month last year.

The rise matches global trends. World Health Organisation data shows that there was a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide during the first year of the Covid 19 pandemic alone.

Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects millions of people around the world. It causes persistent feelings of extreme worry that can affect you emotionally, socially and professionally, and can be debilitating for many people. The condition can be managed so that symptoms can be reduced.

While Covid restrictions have been eased, the war in Ukraine and wider concerns about jobs and the economy generally are exacerbating the situation.

Dr Natasha Bijlani, a Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton hospital, said; “Some of my existing patients who already had a history of depression or anxiety, found the challenges imposed by the pandemic difficult to manage. I’ve also assessed many new patients whose mental health has been tipped over by the pandemic, who might otherwise have never needed to seek professional help.”

Whether these conditions are long-term or not varies from person to person, explains Dr Bijlani; “Some people are likely to be able to return to their previous state of mental health, while others are likely to have been left with long lasting effects, and although anxiety disorders can become ‘long term’, they can be managed so that symptoms are minimised.”

Dr Bijlani recommends the following five techniques to manage the symptoms:

  • “When people get anxious, they often forget to breathe properly and take shallow breaths which can worsen stress. Try to be mindful of your breathing technique and take time, even just a few minutes, on a daily basis to breathe deeply and slowly so that it becomes a regular habit.
  • “Keep up with good sleep habits as quality sleep has an incredibly restorative function that many of us marginalise at our peril.
  • “If you find yourself being adversely affected by the news, avoid watching endless news bulletins. Identify how you are feeling and accept that it is an understandable response in the circumstances.
  • “Make sure you eat regular, healthy meals and hydrate yourself appropriately avoiding alcoholic drinks which can lead to depression and worsening of anxiety after the initial pleasurable effects have worn off.
  • “Ground yourself in enjoyable experiences or meaningful work to give yourself a sense of purpose and flow. Focusing on small, achievable goals, which could be engaging in an interesting project or having a meaningful conversation with another person, could help you rediscover some of the energy and enthusiasm that you might be lacking, and alleviate some of your anxiety and stress.”

There are also apps available that can help you including My Possible Self, created in partnership with Priory. It includes visual and audio exercises to help boost your mood, relax your mind and promote sleep, as well as journals to record worries and emotions as they occur and tips for encouragement.

If a family member or loved one is suffering from stress at a time like this Dr Bijlani advises; “Actively listen to their concerns but avoid readily providing too much reassurance. Encourage them to participate in some basic self-care. Just paying attention to their daily hygiene, dietary intake, sleep and physical exercise can be a good first step to aim for.”

If symptoms of stress persist, encourage them to contact their GP, who will be able to refer them to a specialist. Alternatively, you can contact a provider like Priory who have a team of trained psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals ready to help.

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