Guidant employees and Ruth Cooper-Dickson in session

Getting your head around anxiety

If you have ever suffered from serious anxiety and panic you’ll understand the strength it takes for a fellow sufferer to stand up, in front of a room of 50 people and talk about their own personal experience of living with the condition. That’s exactly what Ruth Cooper-Dickson, a patron of the charity No Panic , did for us last week in a bid to help drive awareness and share helpful tips and advice on how to best look after ourselves and support others suffering from serious anxiety.

Ruth joined us as a part of our 2018 internal INfluence programme which has been created to up-skill and educate our team on all things related to diversity and inclusivity. We believe that by talking openly about subjects such as mental health, we can help to remove the stigma and barriers that so many people continue to face. We can then share this best-practice approach with our clients, suppliers and candidates, using our influence to reach far beyond our own organisation. 

Ruth’s training session was especially relevant. In 2018 we all live extremely busy and demanding lives and the vast majority of us would have felt overwhelmed, resulting in some form of anxiety or panic. However, feeling anxious or scared from time to time is completely normal and not the same as having an anxiety disorder. Ruth explained to us that there are several instances when anxiety becomes something more serious.

You know it’s time to seek help when: 

- Anxiety or panic becomes debilitating and stops you from doing the things you want to do 
- It starts to affect your daily life
- It impacts your relationships
- You start to avoid specific situations or things altogether

Ruth started the session by showing us a video of her own story and how she finally sought help after years of difficulty and avoidance. Ruth has personal experience of living with Generalised Anxiety and Panic Disorder throughout her corporate business career. Since 2015 she has been on a journey of recovery and appreciates the struggles of dealing with daily life whilst trying to maintain positive mental health. 

Ruth told us, “Anxiety and panic is part of me but it doesn’t define me and I have learnt to live with it. One of the hardest things for me when I took time out of the workplace was other people’s reactions. So many individuals found it hard to talk about what I was going through and simply avoided me. It doesn’t need to be like that. That experience drove me to set up Champs, a wellbeing consultancy designed to help organisations ingrain a culture of positive mental health for their employees.” 

Ruth explained to us that an anxiety disorder often goes hand in hand with depression and almost 8% of us would meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis. Women are also twice as likely to be diagnosed than men. However that doesn’t necessarily mean men suffer less, just that they’re not talking about it enough and therefore not getting the help they need. That could be one of the reasons why men in the UK aged 20 to 49 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause of death. 

So what can you do to help yourself or someone else suffering from serious anxiety or panic?

Helping yourself

Not surprisingly, the biggest piece of advice is to seek professional help. Support is out there and you are not alone in needing help or weak for asking for it. If you are struggling with daily anxiety, depression or panic, please do visit your GP. If you are not ready to visit your GP, investigate whether your employer has an Employee Assistance Programme you could turn to for support. 

Alternatively, become a member of No Panic, which specialises in self-help recovery from anxiety and panic disorders and offers a huge range of resources, providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery, enabling them to lead more fulfilled lives.

You can also take additional steps to help yourself. Practice deep breathing and mindfulness techniques and reduce stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol which can exacerbate the problem. Look after yourself by eating and sleeping well and exercising regularly. 

Support in the workplace  

As an employer, there are also some key steps you can take to support an employee struggling with anxiety. Firstly, adjust your management style by increasing the frequency of supervision. Prioritise workload and help the individual to focus on specific tasks. Also be aware of how meeting dynamics impact individuals. Meetings and presentation can be a specific trigger so be aware that what may seem like a small request from you could result in a mountain of anxiety for someone else. 

Be approachable so that the individual can let you know if something is too much for them to cope with. Walking meetings for 1:1s are a great idea and temporarily reallocating tasks, or considering flexible of homeworking, can also make a huge difference. Finally, as before encourage employees to make the most of the resources available to them such as Employee Assistance Programmes. 

Support during a panic attack

During her session Ruth also explained to us what to do if you have a panic attack or come across someone else who is suffering. Ruth has produced this useful phrase ‘RIDE THE WAVE’ based on how panic attacks make her feel:

R: Realise what is happening
I: Identify how to help yourself
D: Distraction may help
E: Exhale and inhale

W: Wait – try not to run or escape
A: Anchor your body and mind
V: Visualise panic leaving the body
E: Empower yourself to know how you can deal with the panic 

"The best thing you can do is to remain calm, be patient, be reassuring and ask the individual, ‘what can I do to help?’. Offering a distraction to take their mind away from the panic inside their head is probably the best thing you can do and most panic attacks will quickly subside. If the individual is not able to breathe or if suffering for more than a few minutes don’t hesitate to call 999 to get further help."

Thank you Ruth 

We’d like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to Ruth for talking to us about her own personal experience and for offering her expert advice. Only by hearing first-hand from successful, fabulous people like her do we realise that absolutely anyone can suffer from this debilitating condition, which is so often completely hidden and suffered in silence. 

Thankfully there is professional help and support out there and while these mental health conditions can be hugely debilitating and life-changing, it is time to change the perception of anxiety, to ensure the conversations happen and those who need support know where to go and access the right treatment quickly. 

For further insight and advice please visit No Panic

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