Anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is normal and it is something that everyone experiences at times throughout their life. Feeling worried about sitting an exam, going to the doctor’s or attending a job interview is perfectly normal but once the event is over the anxiety should disappear.  Things like difficult family situations, employment or money difficulties can cause longer-lasting anxiety; here again, these worrying times are quite often temporary and resolved when the underlying issues are addressed.

Unfortunately, other kinds of anxiety can be more persistent, and for many, this can be so overwhelming that it makes everyday life difficult to manage. No one is immune from anxiety, although it can affect us all in different ways. Everyone will feel anxious about something at some time in their life, but it is not something you have to live with indefinitely or for every moment of every day. Anxiety can be something that occurs as a one-off episode but can also be something that persists for a longer period. For many it can be completely overwhelming, making it difficult to manage everyday life. Many sufferers can inflate and exaggerate situations that others consider normal events. For example, a person with claustrophobia may become anxious at the thought of leaving their home, as the idea of being in a car, a toilet cubicle or even a shop where the exits are unknown can be a terrifying prospect.

Where does anxiety come from?

Although anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, the brain is not trying to punish or hurt you in any way. “On the contrary – it is trying to keep you safe and away from harm. Humans all have a primal instinct known as the fight-or-flight response – this warns the body of danger. Anxiety is an “internal protection response,” which forces adrenaline to pump through the body and causes symptoms such as rapid heartbeats, sweating, hyperventilating and needing to use the toilet, among many more.

In most cases, there is no actual physical danger, which puts the fight-or-flight response down to anxiety. In today’s society, “dangers” are often more psychological, prompting the body to want to protect itself from feelings such as uncertainty, embarrassment, judgement, fear, and vulnerability.

To explain things a little easier, we can use the analogy of a smoke alarm: A smoke alarm is installed to protect you – therefore, whether it senses smoke from a real fire or smoke from burnt toast, it will go off all the same. The same can be said of our anxiety and our protection response. Its intention is good, but its sensitivity to be activated depends on our prior individual life experiences and our individual personal interpretations of them.

Anxiety in context is completely normal. Feeling worried about sitting an exam, going to the doctor’s or attending a job interview is perfectly normal but once the event is over the anxiety should disappear.  Things like difficult family situations, employment or money difficulties can cause longer-lasting anxiety; here again, these worrying times are quite often temporary and resolved when the underlying issues are addressed. 

Issues arise, however, when a person starts to feel triggered unexpectedly and randomly. Although we may not know the exact trigger ourselves, anxiety is never random, it is likely triggered by a thought, feeling, smell or something that we see, hear or touch. This trigger relates to prior trauma, from somewhere in our lifetime which may even date back to childhood.

“What may not appear traumatic to you now as an adult could have been very traumatic to you as a child, and the fight-or-flight response attached to memories and triggers from that childhood trauma,” they said.

If these past traumas have been left unaddressed, they could potentially lead to what feels now like completely random anxiety attacks and therefore potentially being labelled as general anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety which are caused by the spike of the stress hormone, adrenaline, are varied and numerous, but most people will experience some of the following:

  • Increased heart rate or sense of heart palpitations
  • Over breathing (hyperventilating)
  • Shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Tension and tightness, or sense of compression, in the chest
  • Feeling hot
  • Feeling sweaty and clammy
  • Heaviness or numbness in the arms and legs
  • Tingling sensation in the arms and legs
  • Numbness or tingling in the face
  • Nausea
  • Flatulence
  • Need to use the toilet more often
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Hypervigilance
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Light-headedness

Reactions to anxiety

For those who suffer from anxiety with an identifiable cause, although still unpleasant, there is an element of reassurance in knowing what the reason or trigger is. Certain actions can then be taken to alleviate the anxiety, such as avoidance, counselling, therapy, medication, distraction or relaxation techniques. For those who are unaware of the cause or trigger, although the same solutions are available, the lack of a reason can magnify the situation and heighten anxious feelings. 

Many people who suffer from anxiety become restricted and avoid social situations because they feel embarrassed or ashamed, and worried that perhaps they will faint, vomit or embarrass themselves. 

With the right help and support, anyone can fully overcome an anxiety disorder. It is important to remember that anxiety is a normal emotion in certain circumstances and that we all face varying levels of anxiety throughout our lifetimes. However, Negative or traumatic past events often have the biggest impact on our feelings of anxiety. These may need to be addressed so you can positively condition them and move forward with a new perspective.  Writing a timeline could help you to identify the events and memories that need to be worked on. You might like to practice some Grounding Techniques when anxiety strikes or even listen to our Crisis2Calm message that will take you from crisis to calm in minutes.

Living with anxiety can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…

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