Mental Health Research | Dr Sarah O'Neill | Laya Healthcare Thrive Blog

What is causing stress for Irish people? Top tips for understanding and managing anxiety

Pen Dr Sarah O'Neill Glasses 5 min read

Ireland ranks in the top 10 countries worldwide for the percentage of the population affected by anxiety disorders (6.3%), according to the latest research from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017.

Recent research by laya healthcare* found that eight in ten (80%) of adults in Ireland have been affected by anxiety, with almost half (44%) reporting that their mental wellbeing is of real concern to them.

In terms of our overall attitude to mental wellbeing as a nation, the majority (75%) of Irish people think that stigma still exists around those suffering with anxiety, with eight in ten people wanting the conversation to change around the issue.


What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body and mind's natural reaction to threat or danger. Commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight' response, the body releases hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) which bring about several physiological reactions in the body. These help us to survive by ensuring that we are alert and responsive to the danger –  anxiety is adaptive. In our distant past, the cavemen and women gained a rush of energy, which prepared them to either fight the tiger or run away. A racing heartbeat, faster breathing, sweaty palms are all due adrenaline; these physical processes give us a boost of energy and enables us to focus our attention, so we can quickly respond to the situation.

In the appropriate situation, high levels of anxiety - even panic - are considered normal and helpful if it prompts us to escape from danger. Anxiety in performance situations such as interviews and exams can help us perform to the best of our ability. The problems arise when people's response (anxiety) is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or that it is generated when there is no danger present - a disproportionate response.


What impacts stress and anxiety levels in Ireland?

Sources of stress and anxiety are as individual as we all are. One person could be going through certain life events and not be impacted by them, whereas another person may be going through the same situation and be negatively impacted by them. For some people, there is no clear trigger or clearly identifiable cause of their distress. Laya Healthcare’s research indicates that personal finances are the top cause of stress for people in Ireland, with just over a quarter (27%) claiming they have been affected for as long as 7-12 months.

A similar proportion (25%) claim they have had a bereavement which impacted their mental health for 7-12 months.

Time spent on social media was called out as having a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of 18-24 year olds.


Do we feel that we can talk about our anxiety or stress?

Most do – some don’t.

From laya healthcare’s research, almost half (47%) of adults claim they would talk to their partner or spouse if they were worried about something, with almost 1 in 5 (19%) claiming they would talk to a family member.

Almost 1 in 10 (9%) claim they would talk to no-one and keep it to themselves.


Top tips for managing anxiety

The recent research found that there are a number of factors that positively impact mental wellbeing – 57% of people said that family relationships positively affect mental health, 54% talk about relationships with their spouse, and 49% say good quality sleep helps them.

Further tips include:


1) Avoid avoidance

Avoidance maintains the cycle – it’s natural to want to avoid something that is difficult or distressing - it’s human nature. However, with anxiety, the more we avoid the anxiety provoking situation, the more we reinforce the anxiety, which ultimately makes it more difficult to address. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

2) Develop awareness and understanding

Educate yourself on anxiety as a condition. There are some excellent books but, as with the internet, ensure you’re looking at reputable sources. It’s important to gain understanding in order to begin improving your mental wellbeing – break it into bitesize chunks and build on small successes.

3) Talking

Talking with people you trust in your life can be very helpful. Anxiety is one of the most common difficulties that people in Ireland face. You might be surprised if you start speaking about it, the people who may also share their own experiences with anxiety. It’s often a surprise to those that didn’t know.

For those who feel that they can’t talk to someone they know, there are many other options. These include speaking with your GP, a psychologist or psychotherapist, as well as laya healthcare’s 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme. This programme offers in the moment support, as well as access, where appropriate, to experts in a number of areas such as legal, financial and career guidance issues. You can find out more here.


You can check out our other mental wellbeing blogs, including "how napping can detox your mind", as well as "belly breathing to manage stress".

*Research was conducted by Empathy Research on behalf of laya healthcare in September 2018, conducted through an online survey among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+.

The 24/7 mental wellbeing support programme is available now on a select range of schemes and to all members on all schemes who renew or join after 1st July 2018

Dr Sarah O'Neill

Dr Sarah O’Neill is a chartered psychologist, MD of Spectrum Mental Health and director of Spectrum Wellness. Sarah completed her studies and doctoral training in Trinity College Dublin. Sarah has worked clinically with individuals across the life span in a diversity of settings (including community, general hospital and psychiatric in-patient settings), in both the public and private sector. Sarah currently works in a management role in the private sector as MD of Spectrum Mental Health and director of Spectrum Wellness – splitting her time between clinical practice, clinical governance at a service level, and supporting our MH teams who work with our service users (individuals and company clients). Sarah is passionate about increasing understanding and awareness around mental health, decreasing barriers to accessing support and services, and ensuring evidence based, clinically robust services are delivered across all sectors of our business.