Anxiety can be a mixture of feelings such as apprehension, fear, agitation, nervousness, tension, stress, and foreboding. Everyone experiences anxiety at some time in their lives, especially when faced with new or unknown experiences such as exams, new job/school, being ill, meeting new people.
Being anxious can sometimes be helpful because the changes that happen inside our bodies prepare us to take on and survive whatever is happening.
However, prolonged periods of feeling anxious can be unhelpful, it may lead to avoidance, withdrawal from aspects of life that would normally have been ok.
Feeling anxious is very distressing especially if the fear seems irrational but happens anyway. Prologoned episodes of anxiety can also take a toll on our emotions and bodies. People often talk about how feeling anxious impacts on their digestive systems, causing constipation, diarrhoea, nausea or general unease. There are close links between anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
People may experience pain, headaches, chest pains, body aches, pins and needles or dizziness. They notice either feeling hot or cold and sweating. Often they may feel agitated and unable to settle or be still, their breathing may be faster and they might become aware of a faster heartbeat in their chest.
If you are feeling anxious you may have excessive thoughts about frightening things, you may be fearing the worst in various situations. Feel as though people are talking about or watching you and be unable to relax or rest. Anxiety often impacts on sleep, time may feel as though it’s going faster or slower than normal, you might find that you are more tearful. It can also be hard to stop worrying about having anxiety and what might make it worse especially if you experience panic attacks.
Excessive anxiety can also lead to dissociation, it might feel like your emotions are absent or that you are not your usual self, you may feel separate from the world around you.
At its worse anxiety, could also trigger a panic attack. Panic attacks are when the body is suddenly so fearful that it reacts within minutes as though there is a threat to life.
Human brains are made up of different parts that all serve a particular purpose, the limbic system is responsible for identifying fear responses and communicating this to the rest of the body so that it might prepare for ‘Fight or Flight’, all of this happens within your unconscious and in 000.3 of a second. What this means is that the Amygdala is preparing you to either ‘fight or flight (run)’ in order to do this well your body needs to create adrenaline which then makes your heart beat faster, lungs breath faster, and pump blood quicker to your extremities that would help you respond appropriately.
Part of the redirection that happens in your body and brain means that the rational part of your brain that likes to think things through and consider issues at length is switched off, so once your system is on high alert it can be difficult to talk yourself down to a more peaceful way of being.
People that experience panic attacks often describe their bodies as having a faster beating heart, faster breathing, sweating, shaking but may also feel like they can’t catch their breath and may have chest pain. Their tummies may be tight or squirmy they may feel sick. They may have headaches, feel dizzy or have pins and needles in fingers or toes, they might feel overly hot or cold.
As a result of feeling some or all of these changes, understandably people often become increasingly anxious about the loss of control. They may feel faint or think they are having a heart attack and in some extreme cases believe they are dying. Feeling this amount of distress and thinking about these terrible outcomes can often trigger the onset of an attack, it can be very difficult to pause and remind yourself that these thoughts/feelings may not be relevant to the current situation. A continued increase in anxiety can often bring on dissociation which can feel like you’re not quite in your body, maybe things around you don’t feel real, or maybe you yourself don’t feel real or in your body. People describe it as feeling detached from emotion or time.
For some people, feeling anxious may just be around certain triggers but for others, there may be a multitude of triggers that happen many times a day. It is understandable that if you are feeling anxious or experience panic attacks or dissociation that simply getting through a day can be very difficult if not impossible. Under such duress, it can be hard to maintain work, relationships or even look after yourself as well as you normally might. Experiencing anything new or even things that you have previously enjoyed may just seem too overwhelming and impossible.
Are you suffering from Anxiety?
Often when you go along to a GP or primary health care facility you will be asked to fill in a monitoring questionnaire, that will ask you to consider how you have felt about various aspects of your life over the last 2 weeks. These tests can a useful tool to both aid in diagnosis and to monitor your symptoms. The standard GAD-7 Questionnaire used by various health organisations is linked below and can serve as a useful starting point for discussions with your GP or counsellor.
What can I do?
If you are experiencing intense anxiety that is disrupting your daily life, it may be that you have an anxiety disorder. There a quite a few different disorders, each categorised by their own more subtle characteristics.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder – Anxiety experienced over a significant length of time that may be based in a multitude of different daily triggers.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Anxiety that often has repetitive thoughts or obsessions that may result in the need to complete particular actions.
- Phobias – Anxiety or fear that is linked to a specific trigger, e.g. heights, dogs, spiders, leaving the house.
- Social Anxiety – Specifically focussed on meeting or interacting with people.
Anxiety can be debilitating and exhausting so if you are struggling don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be difficult to explain to family and friends what is happening to you and also sometimes, for them to understand the full extent of how it might be impacting you, you may wish to contact your GP or a counsellor for support whilst you work your way through it.
There are things that you can bring into your daily life that can be helpful too, however, if these are not sufficient then it may be helpful to consider approaching a professional as they have many strategies that may help.
Create a strategy for managing your worries. It can be impossible to ignore worries however they don’t need to be in your head all the time. Allocate a time where you will focus just on the things that are worrying you, set a timer to remind you when your time is up. Write down your worries, consider how you may solve them, how likely they may be to happen, what can you do for yourself to feel better.
- Focus on your health, ensure every day that you maintain your usual grooming. Wash, shower, bath, brush/comb your hair, clean your teeth, put on clean clothes.
- It’s important to eat regularly (preferably healthily), rest when you are tired and set yourself good sleep habits. Drink plenty of liquids but it may be best to reduce if not completely abstain from alcohol for a while.
- Dedicate a notebook for journaling, set aside time during the day or at the end of the day to write down what has happened during your day, reflect upon what you felt and thought.
- Try to exercise even if it’s a walk around the block. When you feel anxious, adrenaline is created and distributed around your body, exercise is an excellent way to offset and use up the chemicals, often leading to better rest.
- Consider activities that encourage relaxation, such as, yoga, reading, listen to music, watch a favourite film/boxset, mindfulness, create your favourite meal, or take a warm bath
- Talk to someone that you think will understand and listen. Ask your friends and family for help.
If you are about to experience a panic attack try using these grounding techniques. they can help you to get the rational part of your brain back online and sooth your system.
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