What is Anxiety, and How Do I Deal With It?

Anxiety is a disturbing fear, or a reaction to something we feel like is a threat. When someone is afraid, that fear is usually directed toward an object or a situation. There are many fears that people face in life at one time or another, and everyone has some kind of anxiety in their lives.

The ‘fight or flight’ response of anxiety is something that we evolved with as a species, in order to keep us safe. However, in modern times, there is very little need for us to be able to run away from, or fight off a predator, and the same parts of our brain that allowed us to do that often activate in situations where we aren’t facing that kind of danger. Anxiety can motivate us, and a little it of anxiety can energize us by focusing our attention on our goal, and improve our performance. This is called short-term anxiety, and is a natural response for the mind and body to experience.

However, anxiety becomes a problem when it takes over our lives, and creates a fear that stops us from doing things that we need or want to do. Socializing with others is something that is a common source of anxiety in people, as is boarding an aeroplane, or using an elevator. Going to a shopping centre or being in a crowd can make others anxious. Almost anything can become a fear or a phobia.

When experiencing anxiety, some people don’t know exactly what it is that they’re becoming anxious about. The focus of this anxiety is more about what’s happening inside of them, rather than what’s going on for them. Then, the fear becomes about ‘losing control’ or, the experience of a panic attack- and being unable to stop their emotional response.

Anxiety affects your entire being.

There is a physical, behavioural and psychological part to the response.

Physically, you may experience: a rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, sweaty palms, a churning stomach or a dry mouth. There may also be a sense of faintness, high blood pressure, chest tightness, diarrhea, tremors, blurred vision, dizziness or light-headedness.

Behaviourally, you may find yourself unable to act in the way you want to, express yourself, or deal with day to day situations. You may worry excessively.

Psychologically, anxiety is a strong state of apprehension and unease, and when it’s extreme, it can cause you to detach from yourself and others, and feel like you’re going crazy or even dying.

It is thought that 15 per cent of the population live with an anxiety disorder. It’s common worldwide, and not limited by gender, ethnicity, job, or age. The good news is that it can be managed. It tends to be more common in women than in men, and often exists alongside depression.

Some of the most common anxiety disorders are:

  • Panic disorder, which features panic attacks
  • Social phobia, which is a fear of social situations
  • A phobia of something specific, like dogs or germs
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – anxiety that continues across situations
  • Acute stress disorder, which comes on after a traumatic event
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, invasive long-term anxiety after a traumatic event.

There are a variety of treatments for anxiety disorders, like medications, relaxation, talk therapy (counselling), lifestyle and personality changes, panic-control therapy and CBT. The treatment best supported by evidence is considered to be CBT, but this varies based on the person, the cause of the anxiety and the amount of time it has been a problem. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) works around the idea of exposure and desensitisation, which involves experiencing the anxiety-provoking situations in small doses, until you’re able to adjust to them enough not to feel anxious in the situation anymore. Medication helps to make chemical adjustments in the brain when the problem is influenced by your biology. Relaxation can be good for increasing resilience to anxious situations, as well as providing a means to ‘wind down’ anxiety before it peaks into a panic attack, and counseling can help you explore the nature of the problem and work out what you need to talk about, and where you might need to make some changes in your life. It is worth investigating different kinds of treatments, to find out which is best at helping with the problem for you.

It can be said that anxiety is often about having catastrophic thoughts, and the uncontrollable physical reactions that come with them. Very often, the first thought that comes with the onset of an anxiety attack is ‘what if,’ with the spiral of thoughts following from there. Changing your way of thinking, and your way of speaking to yourself, can help stop that spiral of fear in its tracks.

Overcoming anxiety takes persistence, practice, motivation, and a positive outlook. Because it comes from within us, it truly is within our power to take control of and change.

Suzie Tocock has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and is currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Counselling. As a student at AIPE, you have access to Suzie for counselling should you require it. To make an appointment, talk to Brett Lyon on Level 1, or Reception at Level 1.

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