What Is Anxiety?
We hear this word thrown about a lot, but what exactly is anxiety? At a physiological and emotional level, it’s a fear response designed to alert us to possible threats. Humans and other animals at a basic level are organisms that evolved to survive and procreate, and so feelings of anxiety help us to stay safe and alive. Our brains are constantly making multiple computations and calculations; in fact, it is said that our brains think around 70, 000 thoughts a day – what do you think about that?
Why Does It Take Over Me?
Feeling anxious is a response to perceived danger, or what is known as the F3 – or fight, flight, freeze response. When our brains detect a potential threat, it floods the body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These prepares us to either fight the threat; this means our heart rate increases, breathing may become shallow as blood is pumped into the major muscle groups, and we may experience this as tingling or tension in the body. Alternatively, instead of fight, our brain may decide to use this burst of energy to run away from the threat (flee). Unless that is, it decides hiding would be safer, in his case, we would stay very still until the danger passes (freeze).
So Why Do I Experience The F3 Response When I’m Not In Actual Danger?
It has been said that the brain is easy to trick and what matters most to it is survival, and rightly so. We should be glad that we have such an awesome red alert system. The issue however for most of us, and many of the clients I see is, when the brain is unable to differentiate between a perceived threat, and an actual life-threatening one. This results in lots of false alarms which cause anxiety. For example, a person might worry about contamination, and this can develop into an irrational fear of germs, causing them to feel threatened to such an extent that they think contamination will lead to death. This creates an extreme response, impacting daily life, and can take the form of any number of disorders.
What Are The Different Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social phobia, social anxiety disorder (sometimes with panic attacks), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or health anxiety. These are just some types of anxiety disorders. Another, more common example is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). This is when stress and anxiety is not focused on one particular type of threat, but can manifest across a variety of situations. For example, when your boss asks to speak with you, you may feel that your job is at risk, or that you are underperforming, so you start to experience the physical symptoms as described above because your brain has catastrophised the situation.
How To Minimise Anxiety
It’s about retraining our brains, tweaking the wonderful internal alarm system (F3) so that it’s more adept at differentiating between an actual threat, and a perceived, often irrational one. Treatments for anxiety that could help include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a very useful way to understand how the process of anxiety operates for you, and how it is maintained. It will identify what triggers anxiety for you and what your symptoms of anxiety are. By doing this, you will be better equipped to break what is known as the vicious cycle of anxiety, and replace it with a more rational, considered, and accurate assessment of situations, so that you experience a proportionate and helpful response, rather than a heightened state of anxiety which takes over and leaves you feeling out of control and distressed, especially when it happens over the long term.
Other Useful Ways To Work With Anxiety
Aside from CBT, there are other ways to treat anxiety, including finding a support group, or mindfulness, which can teach you how to relax by focusing on the present and staying grounded. Or you might explore deeper into the source of your anxiety via a psychodynamic approach, for example, if your experience of anxiety relates to a deep held traumatic situation. Or you might find an integrative approach useful; this entails a combination of therapies, in order to suit your individual needs. We can help you decide which kind of therapy might best work for you, based on your psychology, and how anxiety arises in you.
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