Updated: Jan 2
By Ronelle Bloomfield
We have all felt anxious at some point in our lives. Whether it’s just before a big presentation, or when faced in a life or death situation. Whatever the reason, anxiety is a normal human response to fear. The problem arises when this fear response is extended for prolonged periods of time and interferes with your day-to-day life.
Anxiety can be defined as a worry or fear about something. When we sense danger, the body’s stress response kicks in. The flight-or-fight response is activated causing the release of hormones to prepare the body to reduce the threat by facing it or running away.
Physical signs include:
o Dilated pupils – Pupils become large to allow more light into the eyes so you can view your surroundings better to be on high alert.
o Increased heart rate – The heart beats faster to send more oxygen around the body
o Tension in your body – Hormones moving to your muscles makes the body feel tense.
This is a normal response to fear and has been adapted for survival. So why does this system activate when we are not in real danger? The body has a similar reaction to both real and imagined danger. This means that when you perceive a situation to be dangerous, this can trigger the stress response. This happens automatically, as a survival mechanism. The brain does not have enough time to decide which threats are real and which are not. The problem arises when the stress response becomes activated regularly as this can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems and chest pain.
When excessive worry impacts your day-to-day functioning on more days than not, for at least 6 months, this can lead to Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines that the individual finds it difficult to control the worry and has 3 or more of the following six symptoms:
o Restlessness/ Feeling on edge
o Difficulty concentrating
o Muscle Tension
o Sleep Disturbance
The worry or physical symptoms causes significant distress or impairment in areas of functioning (e.g. social, occupational). Other anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorders (social phobias), specific phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Individuals may go to therapy to help manage their symptoms. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy aims to challenge the negative thinking that may lead to anxiety. Exposure Therapy aims to allow people to face their fears in a controlled environment in order for them to begin to gain control and reduce their anxiety.
Even if you have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you may still feel anxious from time to time and want to know how to control this.
I would recommend using grounding techniques. This can be useful help bring you back to the present and take your mind from the anxious thought and into the here and now.
Here are a few grounding techniques to practice when you are feeling anxious.
Start by taking a couple of deep breathes. Then using all five senses, identify:
5 – Things you can see
4 – Things you can feel
3 – Things you can hear
2 – Things you can smell
1 – Thing you can taste
This helps to bring your focus to the present moment.
2. Allow your thoughts to float away
When we worry, we also tend to overthink. Have you noticed that whenever you try to put all your efforts to stop overthinking, it becomes the only thing you think about? Instead, observe your thoughts as if you are observing your thoughts. Allow each thought that crosses your mind to turn into a petal and just float away.
Feeling anxious causes, us to take short, shallow breaths. This is why you may feel faint. By taking deep breaths, you send oxygen around your body, slowing your heart rate giving you a feeling of calm.
So now you know what anxiety is and how to minimise the effects. Practice these techniques regularly so you can be ready to apply them when required. Overtime, you can be in more control of your body and reduce your anxiety.