There is no denying it – anxiety can be an unpleasant feeling. Your heart starts to race, palms begin to sweat and your stomach feels as if it is tied up in knots. But what exactly is anxiety and why do these feelings occur?
Anxiety is how your body responds to the threat of danger. Think of anxiety like your body’s alarm system. When you sense danger, it signals the alarm by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. The adrenaline causes systems within the body to speed up and diverts blood into larger muscles. This response gives you the momentum to either fight or run away. While this response system is extremely helpful and in some cases, life-saving, it can sometimes be a little too sensitive for modern day life.
Most of us are no longer at risk of being attacked by a lion or mauled by a bear. Instead, we are at risk of missing a deadline or failing a major exam. When the anxiety-provoking experience is over, people usually feel calm and relaxed. However, for some people, the anxiety does not subside. Our response system can be so effective that sometimes it is triggered even when we do not need it. The threat of danger is not real, but our thoughts are telling us it is. People who are prone to feeling anxious may have a hyperactive response system that is constantly scanning for danger and consequently more likely to be triggered.
Problems with anxiety tend to occur when we overestimate the threat of danger. Our thoughts can get distorted and we become vulnerable to engaging in the following:
- Catastrophising – Take a current or future situation and anticipate the worst possible outcome. For example, you make a tiny error at work and you think ‘I am going to get fired.’
- Black-and-white thinking – Look at everything in terms of all-or-nothing. This often happens with perfectionists, who feel that without perfection everything is a failure. For example, thinking ‘I’m so terrible at running,’ versus ‘Running is hard for me right now, but I will keep running so that I can get better.’
- Block out the positive – Instead of focusing on the whole picture, good and bad, you filter out the positive and only see the negative.
- Scanning – Searching for what makes you most anxious. This causes worry and fear over what may happen before it happens, which causes double the anxiety.
- Changes in mood – This can alter your ability to cope with anxiety and stress, which can make you feel hopeless and helpless.
Feeling anxious? Here are some things you can try:
- Breathe – Taking deep breaths in and holding for one second before releasing the air. This will help calm you down and allow you to be more relaxed and be present.
- Ask yourself some questions:
- What is happening to make me react this way?
- What do I think is going to happen?
- What is the worst-case scenario? What is the best?
- How important is this and will I care in a few days, weeks, or months?
- Am I really in danger?
- Am I viewing the situation correctly?
- Is the outcome in my control?
If you find yourself suffering from anxiety and need some extra help – reach out to your general practitioner.
Or reach you can reach out to Anxiety UK, an established national charity service that provides support and services to anyone dealing with an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and phobias.