Anxiety………….. holding, crushing, suffocating. It clutches at your chest, clenches at your throat, takes your breath and steals your joy. Paralysing, terrifying and debilitating.
Anxiety is about worry and fear. All humans feel anxious at times, it’s one of our survival techniques. When big decisions or changes are to be made it’s natural to worry and stress about them. We move from what is called our “window of tolerance” <<<< the place where we are calm, open, where we get things done and are able to communicate – into the “flight or fight” place. The place where our senses become heightened, our brain starts to think ahead, we’re alert, we’re ready to defend or to escape, our muscles are on edge and we’re in the realm of “hyper-arousal”. This is the place that saves us when we are threatened.
But that place – the “fight or flight” place – that is not a place where you’re supposed to reside on a normal daily basis. That place is for emergency, for defence, for escape, for battle. Anxiety takes hold when you’re living too much in the realm of hyper arousal – when you’re using you’re flight or fight resources….just to get through the day.
This causes your brain to constantly assess risk, fantasise about what could happen, play the scenarios, trigger your body to fill itself with adrenaline and other hormones required for flight or fight. Your mind might feel like its speeding along at 100 miles an hour, your heart pumping, your breath forcing in and out of your body and your limbs tense or fidgeting or buzzing with pins and needles. You might feel sick or dizzy, hot and sweaty. The symptoms of anxiety are varied and different for individuals but often the thoughts will leave a person less able to make decisions, unable to concentrate, unable to sleep, fearing the worst and sometimes unable to leave the house.
When anxiety grasps you in an acute way it can lead to a panic attack. Panic attacks can feel like you’re having a heart attack or that you are going to die. This creates a viscous circle of worrying thoughts and physical responses that lead to increase the panic. It can be a truly terrifying experience.
Anxiety is exhausting. Not just making you feel tired, but also taking it’s toll on your body and brain. The long term effects of anxiety can include insomnia, depression, a lowered immune system, addiction, and a reduced sex drive.
The causes of anxiety are also varied but could include:
- past or childhood experiences
- your everyday life and habits
- your diet
- your physical and mental health
- any drugs or medication you might be taking
There are lots of ways to help with anxiety. Medication is often used by GPs to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety – antidepressants, beta blocker, tranquillisers – but to get to the root of your anxiety and make a long-term change you are likely to need other treatments to identify the cause and make the changes that are sustainable and often permanent. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces health care guidelines – ideally your doctor should offer you other kinds of treatment for anxiety first, before prescribing these drugs.
Talk therapy (counselling) can be a very effective way to help with anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is one type of counselling that can be very effective with anxiety but there are also many more types of therapy that are equally or sometimes more helpful. It’s about finding a therapy and a therapist that works for you. An integrative counsellor with have a number of models and techniques they can use to find a therapeutic solution that works for you.
Anxiety can feel very lonely. But you don’t need to do this alone. It doesn’t have to be this way. Reach out for help.