What Is Anxiety And Why Do We Get It?
The majority of clients that I see in my Annapolis, Md counseling office suffer from anxiety or stress and they feel overwhelmed. For many of us, anxiety slips slowly into our daily lives and it’s not always easily recognizable. One of the reasons I like working with clients who have anxiety is because at times in my life I’ve been anxious and I see the impact that it had on me. But I also know that there’s hope for a life lived with more ease, contentment and purpose and I want to offer that hope to you.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety presents itself in different ways. The most common form is generalized anxiety — you feel anxious about lots of things throughout your day. You might even have an anxiety attack occasionally, where you feel extremely anxious and experience intense physical symptoms.
So, what is anxiety? It’s a response to a perceived threat. When you’re anxious, it’s because a situation or event makes you feel uncomfortable, that things are out of your control, or you feel emotionally or physically unsafe.
Sometimes these uncomfortable feelings are unconscious and below the surface. When you sense it’s not safe your body automatically responds as if a dangerous situation lay ahead. Due to our heredity, we are hard wired to ready ourselves for a fight, flight or freeze when we perceive dangerous, potentially lethal situations in our environment. This hard-wired response stems from our primal beginnings, when we were fighting off dangerous animals for survival.
How Your Body Responds To Anxiety
When you perceive danger, your body jumps right in all on its own. Your brain releases chemical messengers—hormones, neuropeptides and catecholamines. These chemicals signal your body to be afraid and ready it to fight or flee. The process affects your brain and nervous system. But that’s not all; it affects your heart, lungs, skin, and internal bodily functions too.
Your heart rate can increase
You might breathe faster and shallower
Your might skin get hot or tingle
Your mouth and throat get dry
You might have trouble swallowing
You could get a stomachache, or feel nauseous
If you want to know more about your body’s response to stress and anxiety you can read about it in the New York Times article Stress and Anxiety, The Body’s Response.
When Anxious Feelings Take Over
For some, anxiety comes and goes. For others, it’s not so easy. If you’ve had a lot of very stressful, very difficult experiences in your life, and you weren’t given the opportunity to process them to relieve the stress you could be carrying anxiety with you all the time.
Anxiety’s Impact On Us
When anxiety is a constant companion, your body is living under stress most of the time. You might become used to living this way, but it takes a toll on your physical health, your mental health, your relationships and your interactions with your environment.
Some signs that anxiety might be ruling your life:
You’re easily startled.
Your startle response is out of proportion to the trigger. For example, you scream when someone touches you unexpectedly.
You often avoid people or situations because of uncomfortable feelings.
Stepping outside your comfort zone leaves you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or really irritable.
You experience anxiety or panic attacks.
You worry all of the time.
I know what it’s like to live with anxiety when it takes control of your life. It affected my sleep, my digestion and my relationships with friends and family. If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed it might still be ruling my life.
How Anxiety Affects Those Closest To Us
As I mentioned above, anxiety can affect the quality of your relationships. It can make you overly irritable, and you might snap at your partner, children or friends for reasons that are not apparent to them. You might isolate yourself because of your worries about stepping outside your comfort zone. You might be depressed with little motivation for new activities, because that little voice inside your head is whispering negative comments to you about your worth or abilities. Or, you might feel disconnected from yourself and others.
Whatever the impact, you can do things to remove anxiety from the driver’s seat!
5 Steps That Help You Manage Anxiety
Recognize that anxiety often stems from fear. Try to go a little deeper and be curious about what you’re feeling. The fears and worries might not be obvious so instead get curious about the sensations in your body. Be kind an compassionate in your exploration and remind yourself that this will pass.
Learn relaxation skills. Try meditation, mindful awareness, deep breathing, taking a bath, hugging someone close to you, mindfully patting your dog or cat, or taking a walk in nature. Find what works for you, or try a combination of things. Sometimes just doing something different makes all of the difference.
Exercise regularly. I can’t say enough about exercising regularly to help manage anxiety. Exercise releases the body’s “make-you-feel-good” chemicals. According to the Anxiety And Depression Association (ADAA), “ Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? You can find out more about exercise and anxiety here on the ADAA website.
Create regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep is another great way to combat anxiety. If you aren’t sleeping, your body is already stressed. When you add additional stressors you can become anxious pretty quickly. You can find out more about sleep and mental health here.
Eat a healthy diet. A healthy body works better and efficiently, and the proper nutrition can help stimulate the body’s natural stress responses.
Counseling can also help because it gives you a safe place to process and difficult life events, it’s a space where you’re heard and seen without judgment, and it can give you hope when it might feel like there’s none. If you are struggling and you want help managing your anxiety through counseling call or email me and we can talk about it.
Want to know more? I have a few articles about anxiety, it’s causes and things you can do to help yourself on my blog.
If you want to move forward, to reduce your stress, to no longer feel stuck, to to live your life with intention and purpose it's time to pick up the phone and call or email me for a consultation!