What is Anxiety?

Updated: May 21

If you look around online you will see a tonne of information about Anxiety. It is definitely the most common mental health issue I hear about, especially among younger people. Before the Millennial Generation we did not have the word Anxiety. We described ourselves as being worried, or fearful. Millennials and generations Z'er's are inundated with anxiety and panic disorders. We all know what anxiety is, but can we really define it? Let me try. Anxiety is very much a physical experience. Racing heart, sweaty palms, quick breathing, dizziness, stress in the body. We 'feel' anxious. Usually we have accompanying thoughts. Negative thinking. Fearful thoughts. The body sensations coupled with the fearful thinking, usually leads us to limit our decisions and avoid situations where we know our anxiety will spike. For many of us parents, we may notice our children are 'suffering with anxiety'. They don't want to go to school. They don't want to try anything new. They won't make friends because of their anxiety. Let's look at what is going on.

In later blog posts I will write about why come people have anxiety issues, and also the techniques to best deal with the anxiety. But for now I want to explain the science behind anxiety. We can't fix, what we don't understand right?

Stress and anxiety feelings are a normal part of the human body. We are designed by nature to feel these uncomfortable feelings in order to best cope with 'stressors'. If there is something fearful in our world, we should be afraid of it! To run, to escape, to hide, to fight back. Whatever is needed to protect ourselves. You will have heard of the Flight/Fright/Freeze response. This response causes us to feel anxious, afraid and stressed in order to deal with the stressor. When our brains were developing, in evolutionary terms, we needed this response to keep us from getting eaten by a bear. It is an efficient response. Our brain tells our bodies we are in danger and the physiological response kicks off. Increased heart rate, increase in oxygen rushing through our brains and bodies so that we can fight/flight or freeze. The problem is when we have this fight/flight/freeze response in our normal every day life. Maybe all day long. Maybe just for some parts of our lives. But nonetheless, for experiences that are not stressors or problems. Or minor problems, that we 'should' be able to cope with, without shutting down.

Our bodies can be in the 'habit' of anxiety. Just constant stimulation of the stress response. Our nervous systems can get exhausted from never resting. It's just constantly switched on to cope mode. Survive mode. Even when our lives are relatively calm.

So there are many many techniques and skills to help with anxiety. There is no medical reason why a person cannot retrain themselves to stay calm, and physically steady. It is hard to do, but possible. Fixable.

In later posts I will be covering a whole series on Anxiety. But to summarise this post :

1. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and problems

2. Anxiety becomes a problem itself when the stress and problems have gone, and the anxiety response is still there.

3. Anxiety also becomes a problem when it prevents you from dealing with 'normal everyday' problems like going to school, developing friendships and interests etc, going to work.

4. Anxiety is very much a physiological response to a perceived threat. The brain is in charge of this anxiety response kicking off.

5. De-stressing and removing your anxiety problem is entirely doable.

In my next post I will talk about Anxiety and the Breathe.

Some helpful links in the meantime.

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