Anxiety - The facts
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Danny Hickling. BSc (Hons). Couns. MBACP. UKCP. Counselling & Psychotherapy
1st April, 20140 Comments
If you are currently suffering from anxiety, it can help to be mindful of the basic facts on the condition and be aware of what it entails. The following should help to put your anxious feelings in context and lessen any fears you may have.
Anxiety is a natural function that becomes a disturbance to our everyday lives. As human beings this function goes back to the time of our early ancestors when the ‘fight or flight’ response was vital to our survival. If we saw a towering ferocious beast we would have to ‘fight’ it or flee (flight) from it. Our only other option was to freeze, which is another response to fright. If we froze in the undergrowth, our movement was less likely to be noticed, and our survival chances increased.
Today, anxiety is the leftover response from these ancient flight or fight reactions. Now human beings don’t encounter threatening beasts, and in most circumstances anxious responses are unnecessary. Our physical responses to fear, stress and anxiety however are ongoing - hot-wired into all of our bodies so that adrenalin is automatically released in response to a supposed threat (i.e. we may feel anxiety walking on a cliff edge so we avoid it).
Although its origin lies deep in our ancestry, anxiety is believed by many psychologists and counsellors to be sparked by internal conflicts - some of which may have been established in our childhood. An example of an everyday conflict may simply be the desire to spend time with friends or family, but feeling pressured to commit to work or studying demands.
The way anxiety affects us individually varies, but there are common physical and psychological responses to anxiety. These include:
- palpitations and increased heat rate
- tense muscles
- weakness in the legs
- tingling in the hands and feet
- difficulty breathing
- churning stomach sensations
- tightness of the chest area
- tension headaches
- hot flushes
- dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- hyper-sensitivity of the body to its usual process.
There are also common thoughts or beliefs individuals may experience when experiencing an episode of anxiety:
- Feeling that people are looking at you and can see your anxiety.
- Fearing that you may go mad or lose control.
- Believing that you may die.
- Fearing you may have a heart attack or be seriously unwell.
- Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down.
- A surreal, detached feeling.
- The desire or urge to run away from the situation.
- Feeling on edge and hyper-sensitive to events and surroundings.
Counselling is considered useful for uprooting a person's deepest issues that may be responsible for the emotional turmoil that is linked to feelings of anxiety. Basic forms of counselling such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can offer ways of looking at worries and negative thinking that can lead to anxious feelings and stress.
Furthermore, some practical activities can be incorporated into your life, which may help to reduce your stress and anxiety levels. These include:
- Exercise - regular physical activity has been proven to raise serotonin levels - the feel-good chemical in our blood stream. This can help to combat stress.
- Aromatherapy oils - some people use aromatherapy oils either in the bath or via massage to help with stress and anxiety. Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Chamomile are popular options. Remember to seek specialist advice if you are pregnant and always dilute oils with carrier oil.
- Relaxing activities - try to engage in relaxing and stimulating activities, such as listening to your favourite music. Reduce your adrenalin levels by avoiding things such as horror films and replace regular caffeine drinks with decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas. Reducing caffeine can help to bring down overall stress and anxiety levels.
- Get more sleep - lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, and many find sleep can help them to escape from stressful feelings.
These are just a few of the things you can incorporate into your day to help beat stress and anxiety, but the important thing is to follow what your body tells you. If you are tired - sleep; if you need a break - take one.
The exploration of anxiety and stress on anxietyuk.org.uk suggests that one way to think of your anxiety and stress levels is to compare them to a bucket of water. If you keep adding stressors to the bucket (even tiny ones like the school run or commuting to work), over time it fills up until one day it overflows. This can help to explain how at times, stress and anxiety can occur out of the blue with no significant trigger. Instead, the trigger is many small ones that have piled up and tipped you over the edge.
What you need is a bucket with lots of holes in to reduce your overall stress levels. Each one of these holes could be something positive that you can do to manage your anxiety, such as yoga, exercise, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends or family. In summary it seems the key is finding some balance in work rest and play, and enjoying time to yourself. This will help to give your nervous system a rest for a while.
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