Anxious feelings are natural and normal
We all feel anxious at times. Almost all of us will experience symptoms of anxiety from time to time. There were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013 and globally, 284 million people were estimated to have experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent mental health disorder across the world.
Anxiety is a natural response to those moments when we feel under threat.
Whenever we don’t feel safe, and aren’t sure of what’s going to happen, our brain springs to our defence. It becomes hypervigilant, checking for any sign of danger.
Stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, causing our heart to beat faster, our breathing to become shallower.
We are ready to run fast, think quickly, and get out of danger. Our brain is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do in times of crisis.
Back in our caveman days, our anxiety response was designed as a short, sharp intervention to help us escape the jaws of our predators.
Unfortunately for many of us nowadays, our anxiety can form the back drop of our days: it becomes a constant presence, leaving us feeling persistently on edge, whether or not we can identify the cause.
When we’re anxious we take the worst-possible perspective
In this anxious state, our brains will always take the worst-possible perspective. (This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint: it’s safer to assume the tiger is going to eat you, rather than just wants to play!)
If we are tuned to the negative, we can easily interpret every tickle in our throat or twitch in our muscles as a sign that we are seriously ill.
We can see the gritted teeth of our boss or partner, and expect a furious attack, when perhaps they’ve actually just got a cornflake stuck in their teeth.
A particular phone number flashes up on our display, and immediately our stomach lurches, our heart races, and we feel sick at the thought of answering.
Our brain keeps us in this constant state of hyper-vigilance, relentlessly checking for danger. (If there’s one tiger out there, there might well be others).
Often this shows up as looping negative thoughts, as we constantly scan through our brain, looking for potential threat; sometimes it manifests as repeated physical checking (the door is locked, the cooker is off), or we search for safety through a perfect routine for washing our hands, or cleaning the sink for example.
We create our anxiety by negatively forecasting the future, and negatively looking back over the past. It’s easy for it to become a self-perpetuating downwards spiral.
Multiple symptoms of anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety are many and varied.
- Often our sleep is disrupted:
- we might spend hours trying to nod off;
- perhaps we can’t stay asleep – waking every one, two or three hours; or
- maybe we wake with the birds, at four or five o’clock in the morning.
- If we can stay asleep, we’re likely to wake feeling exhausted rather than refreshed, as if we’ve had ten rounds in the boxing ring.
- Brain fog is a common challenge for those who suffer from chronic anxiety. The feeling of wading through treacle when we’re trying to think. Finding it hard to concentrate, difficult to make decisions or take action, and so easy to forget things.
- Wrestling with a pervasive sense of dread, we can become irritable, angry, on edge, restless, and critical; finding it hard to spot opportunities or see the good in a situation or person. As one client of mine explained it,
“The sun is out, but I just can’t see it.”
- Our body can feel tired and achy: neck, shoulder and lower back pain is often an issue as the body tenses up in response to stress.
- Feeling sick, stomach upsets, IBS, and needing the loo or constipation, can be a problem.
- Skin conditions can flare up. Blood pressure can rise. Headaches maybe common.
Sadly the list goes on…..
Happily though there is a great deal we can do to help ourselves feel better, and start to ease the anxious feelings of fear.
Start small: take baby steps to being able to recognise you do have control over certain aspects. Be kind and compassionate to yourself as you explore the options. Read about 10 powerful ways to help ease anxiety here,, from the obvious to more obscure.
Allow yourself to dare hope that there are choices open to you, to help you start to ease your anxiety, and regain a sense of calm, hope and control.
High quality support is available for you
If you are seriously struggling right now, or are worried about a friend or family member, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
When choosing a therapist check they are a member of a well-reputed professional body. This should mean their qualifications, training, and insurance are up to date, and they follow an established Code of Ethics. Remember too that the success of your therapy will significantly depend on your relationship with your therapist, so do seek someone you feel comfortable with and trust.