Mental Health Awareness Week: Managing and treating anxiety

Below is an article from Nuffield Health with additional information provided by Inspire2Train and Society member Gary Platts. The vast majority of the time, our members tell us that refereeing, particularly within NLD, is an enjoyable, rewarding hobby. However, the Society is committed to supporting members who experience mental health issues, whether they are linked to a rugby incident/s or otherwise.

It is always a good idea to reach out to a friend for a chat and members can find contact details for other members on WTR. In particular, John Bradwell, Steve Whiteside, Gary Platts, James Fisher, Paul John and Annette Zhao are all happy to lend a listening ear or signpost you to a place of help. Visit our Mental Health page for more information.

  1. What is anxiety?
  2. What causes anxiety?
  3. Different types of anxiety
  4. What are the symptoms of anxiety?
  5. How is anxiety treated?

What is anxiety?

In 2022, an average of 37.1% of women and 29.9% of men reported high levels of anxiety, but there is still confusion around what anxiety is, how it can be recognised and ways to manage it.

Anxiety is a natural human response to certain stressors or threats and can manifest in feelings such as worry, fear and physical discomfort. Anxiety is common to us all however when it starts to become distressing, persistent and impacts on our ability to function in key areas of our life, it starts to become a problem.

Although the symptoms of anxiety can feel particularly unpleasant, it can be used to our advantage in order to drive us to work harder or to achieve a particular goal. Anxiety is also good in that it helps to keep us safe. When there is a threat, our anxiety or stress response is activated, and the body gets ready to ensure our survival.

This is best known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response which is where our heart rate increases and the body releases hormones to enable us to survive. When this response happens there is an increase in our breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to prepare us to ward off danger. Other bodily functions reduce in activity such as our digestive system, as these are not required at this time.

When any threat or perceived threat is over, the body returns to its usual levels of functioning, however, when we are exposed to ongoing stressors or, for example, constant worrying thoughts we can find that our anxiety levels remain heightened rather than return to our normal baseline.

When anxiety is severe or on-going it can start to impact how we function which makes daily tasks become difficult, such as our ability to work, concentrate, sleep, socialising and feeling able to take care of ourselves.

What causes anxiety?

Sometimes there are clear external stressors that can cause anxiety, however there is not always a clear trigger for our anxiety response. We can be unaware of thought processes that may be contributing to our anxiety.

This means that anxiety can persist for longer periods of time and can be difficult to manage when we are not aware of what might be maintaining our anxiety.

For some people, it can seem like anxiety creeps up on them, due to lots of little stressors building up over time without them realising. For others, anxiety could be triggered by any of the following factors, or a combination of them, such as:

  • Traumatic incidents
  • Worrying and uncertainty
  • Loss
  • Work related stress or common life stressors
  • Significant life events
  • Painful long-term health conditions
  • Certain medications
  • Misuse of alcohol or drugs.

Different types of anxiety

Although the symptoms of anxiety are similar for all of us, the presentations of anxiety vary greatly. Anxiety can manifest in the following ways:

  • Generalised anxiety (GA) – having lots of worries about lots of things. This is one of the more common types of anxiety, particularly in younger people
  • Social anxiety – anxiety that emerges specifically in social situations
  • Health anxiety – anxiety related to fears about having a physical illness
  • Phobias – anxiety triggered by a fear of something specific
  • Agoraphobia – fear of being in open or crowded places or not be able to leave
  • Panic disorder – having frequent panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – reliving a distressing event and experiencing the same symptoms that were present in the original traumatic event
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – intrusive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviours, which temporarily relieve the anxiety.

Although each of the above is considered a presentation of anxiety, it does not mean that treatments or symptoms associated with each will be the same.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety can vary in severity and can manifest mentally, physically and in certain behaviours.

The physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth or a feeling of choking
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
  • Stomach and digestive issues
  • Feeling sick, dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • Tiredness
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Feeling too cold or too hot
  • Trembling or shaking.

The psychological or behavioural symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Feeling nervous, tense or fearful
  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling on edge or hypervigilant
  • Feeling hyperaware of yourself or self-conscious
  • Feeling that people are judging you
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding situations that you fear
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Panic attacks
  • Feelings of terror or dread.

How is anxiety treated?

Anxiety can be treated through talking therapies and medication. Some people might choose to just use medication without therapeutic intervention and vice versa. It can be useful to use both types of treatment to manage immediate symptoms whilst new coping mechanisms are explored.

The evidenced based treatment recommend by NICE guidelines for anxiety is CBT. This approach considers how we think, feel and behave and looks at how anxiety can be maintained in a ‘vicious cycle’ and how this cycle can be broken. A CBT therapist would help you to challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, and explore helpful techniques to manage symptoms of anxiety.

Counselling can also be beneficial for talking about anxiety and is particularly helpful when anxiety is related to certain circumstances such as a relationship breakdown or financial problems.

Self-help groups or self-help tools can also be helpful. It can be beneficial to meet up with other people going through the same thing to share their experience and offer mutual support.

We can often help ourselves by making small changes to our lifestyle to help manage symptoms of anxiety. Maintaining good care of ourselves and our bodies can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

Here are some tips for self-care which may help enhance feelings of wellbeing:

  • Regular exercise can release anxiety-reducing chemicals and occupy our mind from unhelpful thoughts
  • Engaging in mindful activities to stay in the ‘here and now’ such as going for a walk, reading or doing something creative
  • Using relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness to activate the ‘rest-and-digest’ system
  • Consider your bedtime routines and make improvements to help switch off and sleep easier
  • Write in a journal to let out your thoughts and feelings
  • Spend time outside in nature
  • Eat a healthy and nutritious diet
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, as these can increase symptoms of anxiety.

If your feelings of anxiety are severe and impacting your ability to do your usual day to day tasks it is important to visit your GP and seek professional help for your anxiety.

Alternatively, you can speak with Society members John Bradwell, Steve Whiteside, Gary Platts, James Fisher, Paul John or Annette Zhao who can offer a friendly ear or signpost you to a place of help. Their contact details are available through WTR.

RFU: Law Variations Approved to Lower Tackle Height

RFU produced graphic.

The RFU Council has “voted to adopt the law changes with the new tackle height level from 1 July being defined as below the base of the sternum: The area of the tummy or belly and below.” The full announcement can be found here and all members are encouraged to have a read.

More guidance is expected to be published in the coming weeks which “will focus on helping players, coaches and match officials interpret and apply the law changes”. The RFU announcement states that “a detailed plan of content and training materials for each specific rugby audience is planned with guidance documents, training videos, quizzes and online and face to face training running from May throughout the summer and through into the next season.” The Society training team will endeavour to share these training materials with the membership as promptly as possible and will ensure members have access to extensive training on the changes before July.

World Rugby Update Head Contact Process

All members are requested to familiarise themselves with the updated head contact process recently released by World Rugby.

The Head Contact Process states that “Under 9.11, the referee is always entitled to issue a red or yellow card for anything deemed to be reckless or dangerous. However, this process is intended to aid consistency in the application of sanctions by providing guidance on how contact with the head should be approached by match officials”.

A version of the HCP, with the minor changes from the previous version annotated, can be found here.

Team of Three Officiate at National Cup Semi-Final

Photo showing Charley, Phil and Fish posing on the touchline. They are all wearing the pink NLD Refs match kit.

NLD Refs appointed a team of three to officiate at the National Girls U16 Cup Semi-Final played between Mansfield and Sandal on Sunday 02 April.

Where the fixture list and referee availability allows, the appointments team will appoint teams of three to the latter stages of cup competitions, both to provide clubs with the best possible experience and to give referees important development opportunities.

With Phil Milton in the middle and Charley and Fish his assistants, the two teams put on a great game of rugby in front of a supportive crowd. Sandal came away with the win and will play in the Final at Sixways.

It was a particularly positive day for Charley, who is one of the Society’s Youth Match Officials (YMOs), as it was his first assistant referee appointment. Working in teams of three is an excellent way for referees to learn from each other and experience a wider variety of matches. YMOs are supported and guided by the Society to ensure they get the challenges and development opportunities they need to thrive out on the pitch. Great work Charley!

Interested in refereeing in NLD? Find out more about how to Join Us.

90th Anniversary Dinner

Image of Wayne Barnes refereeing at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Our Chair is delighted to invite all members to the NLD Rugby Union Referees’ Society 90th anniversary dinner on Friday 2nd June at Newark RFC. He said that the event “will celebrate past successes and current activities, as well as looking towards our future ambitions whilst concurrently marking our 90th year as a Society – a huge milestone for us all.”

The Committee is thrilled to be welcoming, as guest speaker for the evening, Mr Wayne Barnes, 2019 World Rugby Referee of the Year.

The Society is subsidising the cost of tickets for members: Members can access the tickets at £75 for over 24s and £45 for under 24s (YMOs). All under 18s (£45) must be accompanied by a responsible adult (£75). Dress code for the evening will be jacket/blazer and tie, or other suitable attire for our FMOs.

Your ticket will entitle you to:

  • 3 Course Meal including table wine.
  • Commemorative mementos of the event.
  • Evening entertainment including auction and raffle.
  • Questions & Answers to Wayne Barnes.
  • Photograph opportunities for your table.
  • Awards and Recognition for members of the Society

Instructions on how to apply for a ticket are included in the email which has been sent to all members. This event is expected to be oversubscribed so members are advised to apply before 28th Feb, after which a ballot will take place, if required, to allocate tickets.

Women in Rugby Union Coaching and Refereeing Conference

NLD's 6 representatives at the conference smiling for the camera in front of an England rugby banner.
NLD was represented at the conference by women involved in both coaching and refereeing from numerous NLD clubs.

On Friday 27 Jan around 200 women from all over England, including several from NLD, were invited to a coaching and refereeing course at Welford Road. Attendees shared experiences, learned more about the opportunities available and even got the chance to network with Red Roses Sarah Hunter and Shaunagh Brown. As broadcaster and journalist Stella Mills commented in an Instagram reel, the future is bright!

NLD Refs is proud to have a Young Match Official/Diversity and Inclusion Officer and part of her role is working with new Female Match Officials to ensure they get the best possible development and enjoyment from their membership. If you’re interested in refereeing click on our Join Us page for more information.


Read the original statement on the RFU website here and an update, posted on 27th January, here.

While the NLD Refs Committee understands this announcement will create much discussion and members will undoubtedly have questions, the changes are not due to take place until 1st July 2023. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the changes and answer any questions when we come together as a membership over the coming months.

All are advised that there have been no sudden law or regulation changes for your imminent appointments.

Nigel Baxter RIP

It is with great sadness that we share with you the news that Nigel Baxter lost his battle with cancer just before Christmas.

Nigel started refereeing for the Society in 2008/2009 season, and has refereed hundreds of fixtures in the interim. Nigel made the time to referee despite being heavily involved with his Club, Meden Vale, for whom he had played, Captained, and was latterly Club Chairman, alongside undertaking anything and everything required to support the Club. Nigel was highly respected and well known in the Rugby Community and particularly so in the Northern parts of the 3 Counties. I often joked with him that he must have the best of diplomacy skills to be living in Ollerton whilst being a club member at arch rivals Meden Vale, and that skill was evident in the strong relationships that he forged with numerous clubs in NLD, and in his refereeing prowess.

Nigel had been diagnosed in late 2020, and had surgery just prior to Christmas that year. It is the measure of the man that Nigel actually felt the need to apologise for not being able to referee any further following his operation. Nigel offered his resignation which, of course, we declined to accept, instead awarding Nigel an Honorary Membership of the Society. Nigel could often be seen watching Meden Vale from the touchlines in his mobility van, although at times needing to maintain a safe distance due to his reduced immunity as a result of his treatments. Nigel was always supportive of referees, and was known to correct and inform his Club teammates when decisions were debated after fixtures, and was always cheery and smiling through adversity, never complaining of the illness that had so cruelly befallen him.

Nigel was the finest of Rugby men, always acting in the best traditions and values of Rugby Union. Our deepest condolences go out to his Family, his Club and his many, many rugby friends. You will be sadly missed Nigel.

Steve Whiteside


Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire Rugby Union Referees Society

NLMOT Promotion for NLD Ref

Photo showing Sam running just behind the ball carrier while refereeing a recent match.

The society received more great news this week with Sam Yates’ promotion from Regional 1 to the National League Match Official Team Associate Group. Sam has been refereeing with NLD since he was 18 and it has been fantastic to watch his progression through the levels, having started out as one of the society’s first Young Match Officials.

The news completes a fantastic week for the society as fellow member Andy Ashwell was promoted to the PGMOT just a few days ago. All at NLD Refs wish to congratulate Sam on this milestone and wish him all the best as the National League appointments start coming in.