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January 2011



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First Published Monday, 13 April 2009

Awareness Week Tackles Fear Head-On, England

All of us sometimes feel anxious or afraid, but for some people, these feelings can start to take over daily life. This year’s Mental Health Action Week, run by charity the Mental Health Foundation from 12th-18th April, is designed to draw attention to the impact anxiety and fear can have on our lives.

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of worry that we experience about something negative that hasn’t happened yet, but may do so. Fear is the natural response we feel when faced with a threat, and can help us survive by influencing our actions in an emergency situation such as a fire or if we are being attacked. It also affects us in non-physical situations when we are under pressure, such as performing on stage or having a job interview.

The mental symptoms caused by anxiety include preoccupation with worrying thoughts, feeling irritable, difficulty in concentrating and problems sleeping. A pounding heart, breathing quickly, feeling weak, having a churning stomach, vomiting, diarrhoea and losing your appetite are just some of the physical effects anxiety can have.

A wide range of reasons can cause some people to feel anxious and fearful all the time. These may depend on factors such as your life experiences, how you were brought up, the ways in which you have learned to cope with life and even your genetic makeup.

People experience anxiety in different ways. Panic attacks are episodes of extreme anxiety where the sufferer may find it hard to breathe and think they are having a heart attack. Phobias are an extreme fear of a specific thing or situation such as being in a crowded place (agoraphobia) or being in an enclosed space (claustrophobia).

If anxiety lasts for more than a few weeks, it is advisable to visit your doctor.

Emily*, a small business owner in her late 30s from north Leeds, realised a year and a half ago that she had developed some unhealthy lifestyle patterns linked to anxiety. She found she could no longer bring herself to stay away overnight or go on holiday, and she felt panicked if her parents went away as she relied on them for emotional support.

Although no specific event triggered her anxiety, Emily had increasingly developed a ‘safe routine’, living alone as a single woman in a big city.

Realising that this routine was beginning to limit what she felt able to do, Emily began to worry she was becoming agoraphobic and developing a fear of going anywhere she didn’t feel safe. When she found she was frequently upset to the point of being in tears, Emily decided to see a psychotherapist.

As this treatment wasn’t successful, Emily visited her GP who diagnosed acute anxiety. Emily found it difficult to cope with telling family and friends, which made her condition worse. Her doctor prescribed medication and suggested hypnotherapy, which helped alleviate Emily’s symptoms for a short time.

After a year of seeing her GP, Emily was referred to psychiatrist Dr John Nehaul at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay. Dr Nehaul was able to give Emily a firm diagnosis of panic disorder. He also increased her dosage of medication and referred her to a cognitive behaviour and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist.

Emily’s EMDR therapy involves her bringing up anxious thoughts and then following moving lights, produced by a light machine, with her eyes. This helps neurotransmitters in her brain to reprocess the anxious feelings, reducing the intensity of Emily’s symptoms.

Dr Nehaul commented: “It was essential that Emily acknowledged in the first place that she had a problem she couldn’t solve by herself. Too often, people struggle on alone. It often helps just to be able to pin a name to a condition, because people realise they are not alone in what they are experiencing and that treatment is available.”

Having reached the end of her cognitive behaviour therapy treatment, Emily is feeling much more confident now, to the point where she recently went for an enjoyable day’s spa treatment, which she couldn’t have done before. Emily also finds she no longer panics if her parents are not immediately at hand.

Emily is planning to continue with her medication until she has her full confidence back. She says: “The treatment I’ve had has really improved my quality of life and allowed me to take control again and enjoy life.

“I feel that there is not enough awareness about anxiety, and a lot of people suffer in silence without realising what help is available. It’s really important to talk about what’s happening, because then you can start to tackle the problem.”

*Not her real name

The content of this release is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.


Spire Healthcare is the second largest private hospital provider in the UK with 36 hospitals and a total of 1,983 beds. It was formed in 2007 by leading private equity company Cinven.

Spire Healthcare provides services for private and insured patients as well as NHS funded patients under the government’s Free Choice initiative. It also offers cosmetic and weight-loss surgery. It treats 930,000 patients a year, employs 7,600 staff and works with over 3,000 medical consultants. For more information visit http://www.spirehealthcare.com.

More information on Mental Health Action Week and mental health issues can be found at http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

Spire Healthcare


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