Anxiety and how it affects us
Anxiety is not just a state of mind, it can have far-reaching effects on our daily lives and overall well-being. It affects us emotionally and physically. It affects our behaviours; do we reach out seeking reassurance, or do we avoid situations that contain fear for us?
We may find that due to worrying thoughts, our cognition is affected, or that we are unable to concentrate on ordinary tasks. We may find it affecting our ability to function in day-to-day life. Anxiety can be especially problematic if we are regularly experiencing physical symptoms, such as panic attacks.
Anxiety and the mind-body connection
Anxiety can be linked to the flight or fight response. Remember, our minds and bodies are designed to identify threats that may impact our survival. In short, the brain is divided into sections which control different tasks. The front of the brain uses reason to process information, which is useful for complex tasks. And the limbic system, especially the amygdala, is designed to identify threats and creates the correct physical response.
The limbic system has not evolved to deal with modern life, it is still looking for the physical danger it must protect us from. It is from this that a panic attack will occur. The system recognises a potential threat and gears up to deal with it - blood flow to the muscles will increase, heart rate will rise and muscles will tense, preparing us to either run or fight. This response is great when facing a bear in the forest, but not so much for the overflowing inbox, relationship problems or well, modern life.
What can we do about it?
There are a number of ways we can reduce our anxiety, including:
- Talking about how we are feeling - with loved ones, friends, colleagues or counsellor - this helps reduce the amount of anxiety we are holding onto.
- The 4-7-8 breathing technique - also known as the relaxing breath. You breathe in for the count of 4, hold the breath a count of 7 and breathe out through the mouth for a count of 8. This helps bring the heart rate down or aids sleep.
- Grounding - sit on a chair and close your eyes. Feel the chair underneath you, your feet on the floor and your hands resting in your lap. Anxiety loves stimulus, so less is more. By actively taking a moment to relax, you send a signal to the brain letting it know that we feel - and are - physically safe.
- Smell something nice - such as your mum’s perfume. Smell is the oldest sense and we are more sensitive to it when anxious as it can signal danger. A smell that you associate with comfort will relieve anxiety, just as the fresh coffee smell helps sell houses.
- Exercise - when we are geared to flight or fight but do neither, there is nowhere for the energy to go. A walk, run or cycle will bring the energy down.
- Do something that makes you feel safe - it could be cuddled under a blanket on the sofa with a warm drink or a hug from a friend.
- Write it down - write down your feelings so you’re not holding them. You'll be surprised at how much this can release and relieve you.
- Create - draw, colour or anything you can do to let out a bit of creativity, as this allows you to be in the moment and forget about what was worrying you.
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