Lets Talk About Anxiety
We all experiencing the symptoms of anxiety at times, but for some people they can begin to wonder if there is something really wrong with them and question if they might be going crazy or worry that ongoing anxiety will harm their health. It isn’t helpful either that some people might make comments like ‘just get yourself together’ or ” you’ve got nothing to worry about?” neither are not very helpful.
Although you might feel alone in your struggle against anxious moods, you’re really not. Many people experience these moods from time to time, and some on a more regular basis. It might surprise you that 1 in every 5 people experience significantly anxious mood at some time in their life.
Anxiety can effect any kind of person at any stage of their life, whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, socially active or shy, youthful or elderly, male or female, wealthy or poor. So bear in mind, you are not alone even if anxiety can make you feel lonely.
Anxiety is normal! Feeling afraid is very much a part of the experience of being human and our survival relies on our nervous system being tuned into danger. Our nervous system wasn’t designed for happiness it was designed to make sure we survive first and fore most!
Anxiety symptoms occurs in response to real anticipated danger and therefore is a survival instinct. For example, if a wild animal confronted us it is likely that we would respond with fear. This
response is important because it sets off a whole series of physical and behavioural changes that ultimately serve to protect us.
When we are confronted by a perceived danger, such as a wild animal, the feeling of fear would probably
lead us to either run for our lives or become sufficiently angry and frightened we would be ‘pumped up’ to physically defend ourselves. As you can see from this example, the experience of fear is part of a process of survival.
However when fear and anxiety occurs in the absence of real danger, rather we have a “thought about the danger” such as “What if I meet a wild animal on my walk in the forest…” our mind thinks that we are in danger but the reality is that we are likely not to be …it is a perception of danger. Our mind leaps to anticipating the worst case scenario, and how awful this is likely to be if it did happen, and then it forgets to remind us that we are pretty good at coping with difficult situations.
Lets think of another example… think of the anxiety you may feel when walking down a poorly lit road after a night out with friends. you may feel anxious because you perceive or imagine some potential danger. This may not mean that there is any real danger in walking down this particular alley, but what causes the chain of reaction in your body i.e. the experience of anxiety is that your brain believes that you are in danger, because you had the thought or a memory of a news story of someone who was attacked some time ago, in an instant you now you have the body sensations to match the thought. Therefore, the experience of anxiety and fear are basically the same except that in the case of anxiety, there may not be any actual danger – you just think or imagine there is.
It is important to fully understand the way our bodies react to threat or danger, whether real or imagined (i.e. a What if… thought) When a person is in danger, or believes that they are in danger a number of changes occur . This response has been named the fight/flight/freeze response. As previously explained, when confronted with danger we will typically flee from the situation, or stand and fight. Sometimes when faced with danger our nervous system makes us freeze on the spot, like a rabbit in headlights. The main purpose of the fight/flight/freeze response is to protect you…to make sure you have the best chance of survival.
We can learn from this that the experience of a fear or anxiety reaction is that in itself it is not harmful. When a person’s fight/flight/freeze response is triggered, three major systems are affected. The way our body responds, i.e. physical, the way we think i.e. the cognitive and how we cope i.e. the behavioural systems.
When we believe that we are in danger, our whole physical system undergoes some major, temporary changes designed to enhance our ability to either run away, or stand and be ready to fight or freeze and essentially play dead. Physically, as soon as danger is perceived, the brain sends a message to our autonomic nervous system. Our autonomic nervous system has three sections: the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch which has two more devisions. These sections control the physical changes that occur in the fight/flight/freeze response. The sympathetic branch is the part that activates the various areas of the body to be ready for action. When the sympathetic branch is activated, it includes all areas of the body, and therefore, the person experiences physical changes from head to toe.
To get things moving, the sympathetic nervous system releases chemicals from the adrenal glands on the kidneys. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, are messengers to every part of your body activating the fight flight response and cortisol is basically a messenger that helps to maintain the physical changes for a sufficient amount of time once a danger has been recognised (unfortunately…if we continue to worry about something that is enough to keep the physical reaction going to).
Check out this video to see what are these physical changes that the sympathetic mechanism produces when you are anxious?
As you can see from this description of the fight/flight response, anxiety is an important emotion that serves to protect us from harm. For some people the fight/flight response becomes activated in situations where no real dangerispresent. Thetypesofsituationsvarygreatlyfrom person to person. For example, simply anticipating poor performance on an examination can be enough to activate thefight/flightresponse. Ananxietydisorderisusually diagnosed when a person cannot manage to function adequately in their daily life due to the frequency and severity of the symptoms of anxiety. It is important to keep in mind however, that some anxiety is functional, enabling us to get to work on time, meet demands, cross busy streets and remain aware of our surrounding.
As already mentioned, the two main behaviours associated with fear and anxiety are to either fight or flee. Therefore, the overwhelming urges associated with this response are those of aggression and a desire to escape, wherever you are. Often this is not possible (due to social constraints) and so people often express the urges through behaviours such as foot tapping, pacing or snapping at people. Some people freeze or go numb, stare into space,
As the main objective of the fight/flight response is to alert the person to the possible existence of danger, one major cognitive change is that the individual begins to shift their attention to the surroundings to search for potential threat. This accounts for the difficulty in concentrating that people who are anxious experience. This is a normal and important part of the fight/flight response as its purpose is to stop you from attending to your ongoing chores and to permit you to scan your surroundings for possible danger. Sometimes an obvious threat cannot be found. Unfortunately, most of us cannot accept not having an explanation for something and end up searching within themselves for an explanation. This often results in people thinking that there is something wrong with them – they must be going crazy or interpret their physical body changes as evidence that they are having a heart attack or are dying.
Restoration of the Systems
Once the immediate danger has abated, the body begins a process of restoration back to a more relaxed
state. This is once again controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This time it instruct the parasympathetic branch to begin the process
Accepting you may have a problems is the first step to seeking a way to overcome it. You may choose to visit a doctor or try the self-help route first.
So how can I help you with anxiety?
- Listen to you first and foremost. By doing this we will both learn how exactly does anxiety affect you. In what situations, when, where and with whom it happens.
- What happens to you physically and you will learn why this might this happen so you are no longer as scared about it.
- We will discover what you think process is like when you get anxious, if you are possibly overestimating the danger, are you overestimating how awful it will be, and possibly blowing it out of proportion, and are you underestimating how skilled you really are in dealing with difficulties. We can then learn how to think differently about situations, learn new ways of thinking, stop doing some unhelpful thinking habits like jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst is going to happen.
- Learn how you cope with it now. What useful strategies do you have and what isn’t useful, i.e. what might be keeping the problem going for you? this might be overeating when you’re stressed, or drinking, avoiding meeting friends and saying “safe” at home. All may be short term solutions but in the long term does really help as just as soon as the situation happens again, your are anxious again! For some people they might have to become more assertive. Each persons needs are different.
- You will develop skill relating to how can we start making anxiety better quickly to manage the strong arousal feeling so you can cope in the moment.
- We we learn how we can learn to overcome anxiety, so you stop avoiding doing things that you really want to do, such as meeting new people, going for that promotion, stand up to someone who annoys or upsets you.
- We can learn ways to control worry, because anxiety can sometimes seem uncontrollable.
- We can learn to be more flexible in our thinking.
- We can get to the route of where the anxiety started in the first place.
- You can get on with your life without feeling so anxious.