Courtesy of Marie-ange
Anxiety is part of being human. It motivates you to perform and allows you to adapt to changes (The Home Therapist, Dr. Matthew Bambling, Mental Health Issues, 2012). Being anxious is a signal that something is wrong, so you do something to keep safe and protect you from harm. For instance, feeling anxious when there’s a speeding car, so you rush off the road. Anxiety creates physiological changes such as a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, nausea, tension in the body, dizziness, sweatiness, and so on. It is a sign that you either need to fight a threat or leave it (flight), so you are protected from danger. These anxious thoughts produce stress hormones in the blood, and this might increase blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, to get your body ready for the fight or flight response. In the short-term, this is okay, provided you can keep yourself stable again and decrease your anxiety. However, in the long term, chronic stress means that your fight or flight reaction is always engaged, and this can impact your physical health and increase the risk of disease. The body soon reacts to normal events, and the anxiety becomes greater than the actual threat. You’ll worry about every little thing, avoid activities, or develop strategies to control anxiety. This can result in mental illness, leading to a range of Anxiety Disorders.
Anxiety disorders may be caused by:
Genetics – increased rates for children whose family members have an Anxiety Disorder
Family History – Trauma, abuse, role modelling of fear behaviors, poor coping skills in the family, low self-image, and a feeling of having little control.
Current Stressors – Major distress and responsibilities can lead to anxiety.
An example of a Social Anxiety Disorder would be the following: “I can’t go to that party. People will stare and talk about me behind my back. I’ll be the laughing stock of the party. Then I won’t be able to go out again. I won’t be able to look people in the eye again. I’ll be forever humiliated. No-one will want to invite me out to a party again, and I’ll be all alone. I’ll sit in my room and will never go out again. I’ll put on weight because I’ll be stuck in my room and won’t be active. I’ll eventually die from morbid obesity.” The response is avoidance, so you don’t go to the party.
An example of Functional Anxiety (slight jitters): “I’m so worried about going to that party. I don’t know anyone, but I’ve been able to meet new people at parties before. I’ll feel nervous and sweaty once I get there, but in the end, I’ll meet people and adapt. It’s natural to be a little anxious but it won’t stop me from going out. I will go to that party.”
If you have normal anxiety, you can still practice some strategies. For instance, you don’t need to listen to anxious thoughts. You can notice those thoughts mindfully (e.g; I acknowledge I am anxious about the public speaking) and behave in a way that will get you to achieve your goal.
You can make a list of steps to achieve your goal. For example, if you need to prepare for a public speaking event, here are your steps:
- Read up on the subject and be an expert
- Type up your notes
- Practise in front of a mirror and in front of family members
- Speak in front of your group
Do you present with an Anxiety Disorder that needs to be treated? An Anxiety Disorder restricts your life as you avoid and disengage from life. On the other hand, if the anxiety does not impact your ability to live a quality life, and you’re able to function day to day, you have healthy, functional anxiety. Carry on!