COLUMN: Michael Hand- Epidemic of anxiety in our world

THERE is an epidemic of anxiety in our world today. The majority of people that I see concerning their mental health are struggling with anxiety and looking for a tablet to take it away. Sadly no medication is effective long-term with anxiety.
The first thing to say about anxiety is, anxiety is normal and most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. People describe it with different words: stress, worry, fear, panic, nervous, agitated. It occurs when you feel under threat and you believe that you are in danger.
Many people manage to find ways of dealing with it however, for some, it can be very debilitating. There are many people who are prisoners in their own home, who are afraid to leave the house because of their anxiety. This was made worse by Covid 19, when we were encouraged to stay at home and work from home. As a result of Covid lockdowns, some people have lost the skills of social interaction, because if you don’t use these skills, you lose them.
A lot of anxiety comes from our childhood or early life experiences. In an ideal world, we should grow up in a home where we feel emotionally secure and we are well looked after physically and emotionally. However, if we grow up in a home where there is conflict, arguments, alcohol abuse or mental health problems, this can have a very damaging effect on children and leave them believing that the world is an unsafe place and full of danger. Bullying at school is also a common cause of anxiety. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel young people can be.
Some have an amazing capacity to pick on the weaknesses and vulnerability of other young people and I have come across people whose self-confidence was severely damaged by nasty comments when they were young. People who are any way different or don’t fit in with the crowd are fair game and it is not easy to survive childhood unscathed. Because of this, many parents are overprotective which is not ideal.
A major contributor to anxiety is perfectionism. There are many people who strive to do everything perfect. Their home has to be spotless and they put themselves under severe pressure to get everything perfect. The other side of this coin is failure, because as humans, we cannot achieve perfection and we will always fall short. Perfection is the enemy of the good. We need to lower the bar and settle for ‘good enough’ if we wish to reduce our anxiety.
Another contributor to anxiety is the desire to be in control. While it is natural to want to have a certain amount of control over our lives, there are many things in life that we cannot control.
If we can let go of the need to be in control and hand it over, our anxiety will decrease. I used to have a great fear of flying, because I was not in control of the aeroplane and I didn’t fully trust the technology, so my journeys abroad were very tense affairs. About 15 years ago, I made a mental shift and let go of the need to be in control. I just let go and handed it over now and I really enjoy the experience of flying. The same process works in the rest of our lives, accept that we cannot control everything and just let go and trust that all will be well.
Anxiety can be reduced or overcome but it requires hard work and effort. The most effective way to overcome anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy, where we try to reprogram our brains to get a more balanced outlook. However, this kind of counselling is expensive and can be hard to access.
The Recovery College runs excellent courses and workshops on various aspects of mental health, several times each year they put on workshops on Understanding and Managing Anxiety, Exploring Our Thoughts and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, these are held in Enniskillen.
Check out There are also helpful apps such as: Calm; Headspace; Sleep melodies; Stress; Aware Ni have excellent material, also there is a lot of useful information and talks on YouTube to help manage and overcome anxiety.


The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 28 Belmore Street, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, BT74 6AA