We are living in times with various external pressures and stressors. This could leave us feeling trapped or stuck and cause us anxiety. Anxiety can take on many different forms – some generalised and others specific to our personalities and circumstances. Anxiety should be viewed on a continuum. At the one end, it creates alertness to danger (often referred to as fear) or in a positive way helps us to achieve goals and resolve problems. On the opposite end, there is extreme anxiety (panic) – the type that leaves you scared and frightened to the point that it becomes disabling.
Panic has a confusing element to it as it lacks a clear trigger that may justify the severe reaction. This could be explained as follows when we find ourselves in an extreme stressful situation (work or personal), we experience heightened anxiety but as we need to cope (though with difficulty) it keeps the severe reaction at bay (need to keep our wits). We tend to experience a panic when we are out of danger or more relaxed (in safe space). The mind not trusting the situation (holding onto the expectation something will go wrong) that I am safe or out of danger allows extreme levels of anxiety to kick in without warning, creating the panic reaction.
People often expect themselves to cope with anxieties on the negative end of the continuum and if not, it leaves them with a sense that they are losing the plot or simply going ‘mad’. Anxiety comes disguised with us interpreting it as personal. Common thoughts associated with it are, ‘I am doing it to myself, I should be able to manage it, I have failed’.
As part of understanding anxiety it is important to recognise the strong physical component. The physical reaction I feel in my body is not a figment of my imagination. The reason for these physical sensations is when we perceive a threatening situation, or bombarded by anxious thoughts Adrenaline is released throughout the body. The effects may include hyperventilation, palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, muscle tension, aches and diarrhea.
People tend to react to anxiety in a variety of ways, but most commonly, they may feel they need to contain it by suppressing or avoiding the anxiety. In context of the suppressed anxiety it comes out in other ways, e.g. anger, depression, addictions or manageable phobias/behaviours.
Other thoughts associated with anxiety are, ‘I must be strong and fight this feeling’. With these thoughts present what tends to follow is an attempt to cope, some people tend to internalise their thoughts. The feeling makes it difficult for them to share their experience with others. What people tend to vocalise when expressing themselves, ‘ It makes me feel silly or stupid talking about it’. There is a paradoxical process present when we experience anxiety. The irrational thoughts and fears are true and absolute when anxious. Once out of the stressful context or talking about it the person can see the irrational aspects to it, hence an exposed feeling.
Others find it difficult to contain their anxiety with thoughts such as ‘I can’t deal with this’ and subsequently hoping or expect someone to rescue them. In the process they may transfer their anxiety that can render the other person (the rescuer) quite helpless. In both scenarios there is an apparent need for control. But it is important how we define control and understand how anxiety can change our perceptions. Failing to control anxiety can confirm a further sense of loss, leading to more distress.
The way I treat anxiety is working with compassion or fairness to oneself. We also focus on the counter intuitive in resolving the experienced difficulties. A good start in addressing anxiety is talking about it with family and friends as they might have experienced it themselves (sharing the experience), relaxation through physical exercise or psychological therapies. Medication may also be indicated in specific circumstances.
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