What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe, it is something that, from time to time, we will all experience. It differs from stress, as stress will come and go in relationship to the external factor causing it, such as an issue at work, relationships or money problems. Anxiety is different from stress in that it persists whether or not there is a clear cause, or a trigger event in ones surrounding environment or relationships. Acute Anxiety affects approximately 5% of adults in Britain. Slightly more women are affected than men. The condition is most common in people in their 20’s.
There are many affects resulting from anxiety. Some of these can make you feel as if things in your life are worse than they actually are, potentially preventing you from confronting your fears or concerns and impinging on your enjoyment of life. You even may, at times, feel you are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of your problems. However, it is important to recognize that anxiety is ordinary and human. It is, in reality, the last vestiges of an essential, evolutionary, psychological system designed for our protection from the earliest stages of human development.
It may be useful to view anxiety as an internal alarm system, programmed to alert us to perceived dangers in our surrounding world. In truth, anxiety is a mechanical response to feeling under threat. Historically, it is designed to boost the adrenaline we would have needed to increase our heart-rate and the amount of oxygen flowing to our mussels, thus insuring we were better able to escape from, or fight, a perceived threat. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. In the modern world, we tend to experience this as the ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling we often associate with anxiety. However, as we no longer live in the untamed world of our ancestors, the dangers we perceive are, most often, normal, everyday situations where stresses have built up, often unknowingly and over a period of time.
Some short-term anxiety is ordinary and can be useful, such as feeling nervous before you sit an exam or prior to a job interview. This can help you feel more alert, and improve your performance. However, if the feelings of anxiety become overwhelming, they may affect your ability to concentrate and the outcome may suffer. For some people, anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it takes over their lives. They may experience severe or very frequent panic attacks for no apparent reason, or have a persistent ‘free-floating’ sense of anxiety. Some people may develop a phobia about going out, or may withdraw from contact with people – even their family and friends.
How can Therapy help?
If you’re finding yourself feeling anxious without an obvious cause, there are steps you can take that may help alleviate the immediate symptoms of anxiety. It is very important to ensure that you are getting enough rest, eating a well balanced diet and take note of your levels of alcohol or caffeine based drinks, such as coffee, as both are acknowledged as having a negative impact on levels of anxiety.
Perhaps most importantly, it is advisable to seek support, as these shorter term strategies, while helpful, are unlikely to address any underlying issues that may be at the root. Anxiety exists in a number of realms, past, present and future. It can be caused by:
• Historic events which are as yet unresolved
• Events or situations in our immediate lives
• Concerns about the future, fearing things or outcomes that may or may not happen.
A particularly distressing form of anxiety is Existential Anxiety. This is when anxiety is acutely felt but there is often no immediate link to the past present or future, and there is no knowledge and little language to be able to express or explain your distressing and confusing feelings. This is where therapy can be most helpful. With therapy you can build, not only an understanding of your feelings, but also develop the vocabulary you need to be able to better understand yourself and more effectively express yourself to others. It can also support you in finding more appropriate and constructive methods of managing anxiety provoking situations.