Faltering economy causing ‘escalation in anxiety levels’


Ignoring severe anxiety can lead to depression and be more challenging to treat and manage, a psychiatrist warned as she spoke of escalating ‘anxiety’ levels.

Priory psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani made her comments as the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has begun to bite; there are reports of entry-level pub positions receiving hundreds of applicants, as people are laid off from other work.

Although the government’s furlough scheme is in place until October, fears are growing that millions will find their jobs have disappeared when it ends.

Experts are warning that economic instability will in turn cause people’s anxiety levels to increase. The pandemic was already having a major effect on mental health; the Office of National Statistics recently published a study showing that 39% of people who are married or in a civil partnership – and most likely to be homeschooling as well as juggling other commitments – report high levels of anxiety, compared with just 19% before the pandemic.

“In addition to fears about our physical health, one of the major consequences of this pandemic has been the devastating impact on the economy,” said Dr Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital.

“Many people have either lost their jobs or are under threat of unemployment. This has led to a further escalation in anxiety levels.”

While feeling anxious or worried during a difficult time is natural, it becomes a problem when it stops a person going about their daily life, creating issues in their work and home lives.

Dr Bijlani said: “While anxiety is a very normal and natural response to stress, and can actually enhance performance, excess levels become counter-productive and hinder one’s ability to function properly.”

One of economists’ biggest fears is that the furlough scheme is potentially masking the fact that many jobs are no longer economically viable.

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Some companies have already begun the process of consulting their employees about redundancy, and more are expected to follow over the course of the summer and autumn.

The pressures of looking for work, or being at a firm undergoing job cuts as a result of the pandemic, will also cause many people anxiety issues.

Dr Bijlani said it is important to try to face these feelings head-on in order to manage them: “Acknowledge and accept how you feel and try and remember that it is extremely understandable under the circumstances. Try not to let your worried thoughts disrupt your feelings completely.”

Anxiety is not only going to affect the people unfortunate enough to lose their jobs. For everyone else there will be a fear that it could happen to them and with that the desire to make sure employers are happy with their work.

This can bring dangers of its own. Dr Bijlani cautions against responding to them by taking on an unmanageable workload: “You might feel tempted to work harder than ever, in order to ‘prove your worth’, but unfortunately this is likely to have a deleterious effect in the long run and cannot be sustained indefinitely. It is important to avoid burnout.”

If you are suffering from anxiety, there are some steps you can take yourself to try to manage and mitigate it. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn’t just bring physical benefits, for example, it is good for your mental health.

Dr Bijlani advises people to “ensure that you are getting enough sleep, nutrition and hydration for your meals. For your mind to function optimally, it is essential that you try and achieve this balance.” She added: “Make sure you take adequate rest breaks during the day and try to keep within reasonable working hours.”

Even if you are one of the unlucky ones who does find themselves out of work during this crisis, Dr Bijlani said: “Try and use the time to build up your skills and rethink ways in which you could adapt your training and education to apply for different economic opportunities as they arise.”

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