Are You Anxious??
We all know what anxiety is but it is a little difficult to define. It is rare that someone would say that they are never anxious about anything. If they did, they would probably be lying!
Anxiety or fear is natural and affects all of us to a greater or lesser degree.
Examples would include being nervous about a visit to the dentist, being apprehensive about our relationships or meeting new people or downright terror at the prospect of giving an after dinner speech! So anxiety affects us all from time to time and to different degrees.
Is Anxiety The Same As Fear ??
Well they are related but slightly different. We get fear, or feel afraid because of something that frightens us like for example, someone suddenly popping a paper bag when we are not expecting it or watching a horror movie. With anxiety the mind dwells on something which the body is not actually experiencing.
Fear and anxiety both have similar effects in the body
So fear is an emotional response triggered by danger. It happens for a good reason. It’s a natural defence mechanism. Soldiers can be trained to ignore the fear response to an extent but people who do not feel fear at all are going to get hurt sooner rather than later!
Many think that this defence mechanism is something that we are born with rather than learned. In other words it is a result of natural evolution. It’s certainly something that can be observed in non-human creatures, birds will fly away from the noise of the hunter’s gun and dogs will cower and whimper when firecrackers are set off on New Year’s eve.
Ancient man had to struggle to survive. The fear response ensured that when it was needed, he had the strength and speed to act appropriately. Fear of being eaten alive by Tyrannosaurus Rex gave a surge of energy to ancient man’s legs so that he could run away! When ancient man finished running away from T Rex, another ancient man challenged him to a fight over an ancient woman. It was fear of having his ancient head ripped off and loosing the ancient woman that gave him the strength to rip the head off the other ancient man and win the hand of the ancient woman!
We all have these basic emotions in us.
What about Fear And Anxiety Today ??
These days, things have changed. We don’t tend to have to worry about being chased by dinosaurs ! Things that concern us come and go, but it is often the ongoing problems in our lives or even problems foreseen in the future or sometimes imagined that concern us to the point of worry. Worries about money, health and relationships or even self esteem can gnaw away at us and lead to anxiety.
Even the word Anxiety comes from the Latin “Anxious” which means to worry about an uncertain event. These are the type of problems that are not easily resolved. Sometimes there will be no resolution to our problems or no apparent one and feelings of panic begin to build up.
So these feelings of stress and anxiety are natural ones. They are programmed into us and are a prime driver of the survival instinct. Without them, mankind would have never survived.
Today, these basic emotions are still with us and although the stresses may be different, the same chemical processes are going on in our bodies. Our threats and stresses are more long term and more complex and given all that we have adapted pretty remarkably so that we can usually cope.
The problems come when our reaction to stress is profound, prolonged or totally out of proportion to the threats. In these instances, where our lives are being affected by it, we have some sort of anxiety disorder.
Fortunately, there are solutions ! So don’t panic about panic if you will excuse the pun !
Later in this section, we will see what the causes of anxiety are, what the symptoms are and the categories of anxiety and finally how we can deal with it !. Before moving on, the points to remember are:
- To live without fear or anxiety is almost impossible
- Anxiety is a type of fear where you are worrying about something rather than actually experiencing it
- Dealing with short term threats is a normal human response. Longer term worries are a product of modern life.
- When anxiety or fear becomes prolonged or is out of proportion to the threat then “Houston we have a problem”.
- Anxiety disorders can usually be treated effectively and often without medication.
- Self help is possible.
What causes Anxiety And Fear ??
Fear and anxiety are a response to stress. The cause is quite simply a perceived or actual threat to our physical or emotional well-being.
What I mean by this is that the “threat” may be real as in walking along a cliff path with a hundred foot drop on one side and falling rocks on the other. You gotta be scared right?
How about that spider in the bath ? What’s it going to do ? tickle you to death?
We all know deep down that the household spider is unlikely to hurt us but some of us are terrified !
Your partner may suddenly decide to leave you. This is a real threat to your emotional well-being. Or, you may think that he or she is going to leave you. This is a perceived threat which may or may not happen. You may worry and anguish over this for a long time until the situation changes and the perceived threat goes away rather than your partner or your partner does the leaving and the threat becomes a reality.
Clearly, one person’s perception is different to someone else's perception.
For example, we don’t all get anxious about a trip to the dentists surgery but some people virtually need to virtually be shot with an elephant tranquilliser to get them into the chair.
My children can stand at the top of a black ski run and smile whereas my legs have turned to jelly way before I even get off the chairlift ? Whose attitude correctly reflects the degree of threat ?
The athlete, preparing for his/her performance will be “amped up” as they say. This is a level of fear or “nerves” which is beneficial. He has “an edge”, a sharpness that other competitors who may be more relaxed may not have.
So its plainly evident, is it not that we NEED a little fear to help us along in our lives, to survive, to achieve and perform.
So that’s good isn’t it? Well yes it is up to a point but there’s a problem.
We know that some nerves are good to give us that impetus to get on and get a job done. It focuses us on an outcome. An athlete who is new to competing at world championship level for example can get so amped up that his nerves take over and he is no longer focusing on the event, he is focusing on his nerves and will not perform well.
If I’m going for that big interview, it will be my nerves that force me to research the company, make sure I get the bus, arrive on time and think fast in the interview. I will be channelling my nerves into a positive outcome (hopefully!)
However, if I am too worried about the job interview I may mess up. In fact it is very likely that I will mess up.
We know that performance improves with increasing anxiety but there comes a point where the performance is impeded by the anxiety. This is where for example the actor’s dreaded so called “stage fright “ can kick in and our actor forgets his lines, goes red in the face and runs off stage totally humiliated.
You may be asked to give a speech and you will inevitable be nervous. It may not be rational but it’s certainly a common reaction to the prospect of speaking live to an audience.
Your nerves or anxiety about the event may get to be so great that you cannot even concentrate on learning your speech. And there’s another problem here. The more you cannot concentrate to learn your speech because of anxiety about the speech, the more anxious you are going to become which will lead to less concentration and so on. This is a feedback loop of disaster waiting to happen !
Most doctors and healthcare professionals believe that severe or long-lasting stress can trigger an imbalance in the chemicals of the brain that can make you feel anxious or sad. Some people are born with a greater chance of having this chemical imbalance, or it may be caused by a particular stress.
Causes of long-lasting anxiety include:
- Relationship problems
- Work problems
- Death of a loved one
- Money problems
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Serious illness
Some degree of fear and anxiety is beneficial
Excessive anxiety is detrimental to performance
Causes can be real or unknown.
How common is generalised anxiety ??
Generalised anxiety is fairly common and affects more women than men. Long lasting and severe anxiety will affect more than on in 20 people at some time in their life. Some people manage to overcome their anxiety on their own. Others without treatment, may feel anxious all the time or every now and then.
What are the symptoms of anxiety ??
To make sense of what is happening to us we need to think back to our ancestors and our need for survival when faced with a threat like the breath of a pterodactyl The choices were, to be pinned to the spot with terror and maybe get eaten, to fight the thing or run away !
In order to prepare our bodies for any of these choices, mother nature starts to pump some chemicals into our bloodstream. The main one is called adrenaline (or epinephrine). Adrenaline causes some amazing changes in our bodies.
First of all it causes the heart to beat faster, pushing up our blood pressure and sending more blood around our bodies.
It makes us breath faster therefore taking in more oxygen to nourish our muscles and our brains so that we can make decision quicker.
Changes are made to our blood vessels so that blood is diverted from one place to another. If we are going to tough it out or run away we need all our blood and nutrients going to our large muscles such as our legs and arms.
Any bits of us which aren’t quite as important for immediate survival of the threat get low priority. Like for example digestion and blood supply to the skin. If we decide to run for it then we need to be as light as possible so adrenaline makes us want to loose some weight and it can do this by giving us the urge to defecate and urinate and also we will need to keep cool if we are about to expend a lot of energy which generates a lot of heat. So adrenaline makes us sweat. As sweat evaporates from the skin, it cools us down.
Pretty much all of these biological effects will explain away all of the symptoms of anxiety. Symptoms can be physical or psychological.
Physical symptoms: -
Palpitations - This is where we can feel our hearts beating loudly or faster than normal.
Sweating – Adrenaline makes this happen to keep us cool if we are expecting to burn more calories in a fight or running away from danger
Tremor or shaking – Adrenaline stimulates the nervous system.
Dry mouth – Saliva (spit) production is reduced because in the circumstances, our body has decided that we don’t need it.
Difficulty breathing – The body is preparing for a threat – We need more oxygen in the blood stream and therefore more air.
Choking – Adrenaline is trying to shut down our digestive system.
Chest tightness – This is similar to difficulty breathing but feels like pressure or pain. You may even think that you are having a heart attack.
Abdominal pain/discomfort /nausea – Adrenaline is causing the digestive upset. We get a churning tummy.
Hot flushes – Blood-flow is being re-directed.
Tense muscles – We are getting ready to fight or run.
Tension Headaches – These are due to changes in blood flow again.
Psychological symptoms: -
Dizziness – This is due to a change in blood pressure and blood flow.
Feeling light headed – As for dizziness.
Irritability – Being fired up can cause us to be short tempered or intolerant.
Fear of bad things happening – This is caused by a reaction to some of the physiological responses.
Mind going blank - As above
Fear of losing control – As above !!!
Fear of dying –As above !!!!!!
Feeling out of it – This seems to be like a self defence mechanism. We “detach ourselves” from the situation so that it can’t “harm us”.
Loss of appetite – You don’t need to eat if you are going to have a fight or run for your life.
Poor sleep – Not surprising when your brain is all fired up.
Tiredness – Not surprising when you are not sleeping !
Feeling on edge – Our nervous system is all fired up and therefore so are we.
Restlessness – This is the same as feeling on edge. We feel compelled to do something like pace up and down or bite our nails , drum our fingers, tap our pens on the desk or whatever !
Difficulty concentrating – Again this is an emotional response to the physical symptoms that we are feeling.
Depression - A feeling that our situation is hopeless.
Scary eh? These symptoms may not occur at the same time thank goodness ! One important point about psychological symptoms. Just because these symptoms fall into the psychological category, it doesn’t make them less real. They are very real . All of the symptoms are real. The above is just a rather stuffy medical way of grouping them.
To sum up:
The Fear reactions kick starts our nervous system sending chemicals all over the body
The chemical effects are a natural defence process
Symptoms or Fear and anxiety are the same and numerous !
Are there degrees of anxiety?
Yes, of course. Some people experience symptoms all of the time and some intermittently and all to a greater or lesser degree. One of the most frightening aspects of anxiety is the so called “panic attack”.
A panic attack is a sudden increase in anxiety levels. It usually comes out of nowhere for no particular reason often when you are alone.
It can be dramatic and debilitating. Breathing is quickened, the heart beats faster and louder. There may be sweating and shaking, chest tightness, a feeling of dread or foreboding.
There is often a a feeling of impending death. All of the nasty stuff described in the last section but all coming together and very intense. There seems to be some sort of feedback mechanism going on.
You suddenly start to feel bad, you know that you are starting to panic and that causes more anxiety which makes your symptoms worse. There may be a trigger for the attack, for example when confronted with a great hairy spider if you have a fear of spiders in general.
They can be associated with an event or place or experience such as being with crowds or in a lift or elevator.
More often than not however, panic attacks have no obvious cause. If they keep happening the brain can sometimes make an associated link between the attack and a place or event.
They can last from a few minutes to a few hours and despite the fact that they are frightening, they will not harm you.
It is worth mentioning another condition called Hyperventilation. This is where a person breathes very fast and shallow. It can happen in just about anyone regardless of whether they have an anxiety problem.
If you are at the bank calmly waiting to served and the guy next to you pulls a gun and you find yourself in the middle of a hold-up you are naturally going to get pretty scared !
Amongst all of the other symptoms you might experience in circumstances like this your breathing is going to be fast and shallow. (The body’s way of getting oxygen into the body – Oxygen is one of the fuels needed by the body and you need as much as you can get quickly if you are about to fight or run away)
People with anxiety problems may get these attacks and those experiencing panic attacks are more likely to get these. The problem here is that as we are sucking in more oxygen we are breathing out more and more carbon dioxide. This causes some imbalance in the blood which leads to nerve tingling, light headedness and feeling faint. Feeling faint could lead to actual fainting.
- Anxiety disorder is very common affecting women more than men.
- Symptoms are numerous and often scary but not harmful
- The symptoms all relate to chemical changes in the body related to the normal “fear” response.
- There is a range of severity and frequency of symptoms.
Are there different types of anxiety?
Yes there are. It’s not always useful to “pigeon-hole” people; to say he is this or she is that. However, it is sometimes useful to know what if anything we are suffering from.
Its partly a reassurance that we are not going buts. Also, putting a name to something is sort of helpful in a way. If we know what is wrong with us we can start to look for answers and help.
It is also reassuring to know that if a condition has a name attached to it then at least we know that we cannot be the only person suffering from it. Finally it is useful if we need therapy, to know the type of problem that we are suffering from because different problems may need different types of therapy.
Ok, you want to know which pigeon hole you fit into? Lets see.
Physical illness can cause anxiety. There can be anxiety about the condition itself, anxiety about the treatment or even anxiety about just going to the doctor !
Sometimes the anxiety is caused by a lack of knowledge and sometimes by too much ! If a guy has a pain in his testicle he won’t go to the doctor until he absolutely has to. He will try to push the pain away to a distant place in his brain.
Worry will then kick in. Either the pain or anxiety about what the pain means will eventually drive our guy to seek advice. Lets hope by delaying the inevitable he won’t have to have his testicle removed !
Women are rather better about talking about their problems, either amongst themselves or to a healthcare professional.
But if you are just plain anxious all the time with for no particular reason, you may still have a medical condition which needs to be checked. One medical condition that commonly causes symptoms of anxiety is having too much thyroid hormone or hyperthyroidism and this can easily be corrected.
Stress at work can lead to anxiety and depression.
Tiredness due to lack of sleep can cause anxiety. Irregular meals, poor diet, smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs such as speed (amphetamines) E’s (Ecstacy) and coke (cocaine) can all lead to anxiety.
Another drug often overlooked but a big problem is caffeine present in tea coffee and cola and other sodas.
Some people even take caffeine tablets to help them stay up late or study. Caffeine is sometimes added to painkillers to make them more effective. Caffeine is extremely addictive and a major cause of dietary related anxiety. Recovering alcoholics often have to deal with severe anxiety.
A whole range of medicines can cause anxiety.
If you are taking a prescribed medicine or even an over the counter medicine. Check the leaflet or ask your Pharmacist about possible side effects.
The big anxiety causing prescription meds are asthma reliever medicines, steroids and decongestants.
Don’t forget that withdrawing or coming off drugs which essentially suppress the central nervous system are like to cause withdrawal anxiety. For example heroin, barbiturates and sleeping tablets when withdrawn can all cause anxiety. Coming off of these and other drugs needs time and care.
Hormonal changes in the body can also lead to symptoms of anxiety. This can be cyclical in the case of the menstrual cycle or not in the case of the menopause.
Next are the PHOBIC STATES.
Phobias are defined as responses which are out of proportion to the stimulus which are particular objects or situations.
A well known American medical dictionary lists more than 200 “examples” of phobias, ranging, alphabetically from fear of air to fear of writing.Included in the list are PHOBOPHOBIA (fear of phobias) and TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA (fear of having thirteen sitting at a table).
Now we all have things that we don’t like and maybe claim to be phobic about but true phobias are characterised by an absolute disruption of the sufferers life.
For example you may think that you have a phobia of the dentist. And maybe nervous about going but the true phobic would simply not be able to go. The fear or anxiety will be so intense that situations such as this cannot be tolerated.
Changing one’s life in order to avoid certain situations which make us afraid is one characteristic of a phobia. Another one is that the symptoms are only present when we are in certain situations or to a lesser extent (usually) when thinking about them.
This is the phobia where the sufferer is not able to tolerate open spaces. So much so that they may not be able to leave their homes. This phobia may also be associated with an irrational fear of crowds. This is a very common phobia and there are said to be over 300,000 sufferers in the UK alone ! Women are more prone to this than men
This is the absolute terror of being the centre of attention.
Most of us, unless we are very confident and extrovert, would not be happy giving a public speech but those with a social phobia would do almost anything to avoid a situation like that.
There is a total fear of being humiliated, being embarrassed or being the prime centre of attention.
We may feel nervous at a social gathering with people that we do not know or apprehensive about being called up onto the stage if we were at a show with audience participation.
However, someone with social phobia would simply not include these things in their social diary. In fact their social diary may well be empty or non-existent ! If we were asked to make a presentation at work to colleagues, we might be anxious about it but someone with social phobia would not turn up for work on the appointed day.
There are dozens of other phobias some common like claustrophobia which is a morbid fear of confined spaces or the fear experienced while in it. Claustrophobia may develop because of a previous unpleasant experience in a confined space. There are common ones like arachnophobia (terror of spiders), phobia of heights (often but incorrectly termed vertigo) and not so common, weird ones like phobia of sponge rubber (which I don’t think has a medical name unless it is spongephobia ) and a phobia of buttons – koumpounophobia ! The phobia with the longest name is hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia which is fear of the number 666. The worst phobia to have must be panphobia which is fear of everything !!!!!
So in summary,
Phobias cause people to change their lifestyle
The anxiety symptoms are only present when in certain conditions or situations.
There are some types of anxiety where there is no obvious cause. There is no obvious trigger which causes the distress. It is just "one of those things".
Panic attacks can be classed as non-phobic anxiety and there is sometimes an association with ongoing depression.
Generalized Anxiety is where you are in a continuous state of being anxious where one of the key point is that this is a long term state and not just a "reaction" to an event which causes anxiety for days or even weeks. With generalized anxiety the anxiety lasts more than weeks, it lasts for months. The other key point is that there is no obvious cause.
Are you Obsessed?
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - or OCD, is an anxiety condition which is ongoing and very disruptive to normal life. There is a "fixation" or obsession about a certain threat or problem which is so strong and causes so much distress that the sufferer is "forced" or compelled into a course of action which it is hoped will solve or alleviate the problem or threat.
The range of fixations in OCD is very broad but a well know example is the "hand-washer". The fixation or worry here is infection.
The sufferer is overwhelmingly worried, consumed almost by the thought that they are surrounded by dirty things or bugs. The worry and stress of this causes huge anxiety. In order to relieve the anxiety, the sufferer is driven to wash their hands.
This relieves the anxiety temporarily only for doubt that the job has been done correctly or the fear of infection arising again which leads to more hand washing. So the whole thing cycles over and over and over.
The anxiety is so bad that the brain forces some sort of action to try and relieve the anxiety but it doesn't fix the problem and the anxiety returns.
There are as you would expect, a range of severity of OCD. A lot of us are a little obsessive in one way or another for example liking our shirts ironed in a certain way or keeping our shoes neatly aligned. But these actions could be described as perhaps being tidy or organized !
The thing about OCD is that it consumes your life. You could be washing your hands a hundred or more times a day. OCD is relatively common. It typically starts in youth and may continue for many months or years before it is properly diagnosed. It is estimated that around 1 in 30 or 40 of us may have it.
What can be done about anxiety ?
Go to Anxiety Solutions.