We can suffer from anxiety without realising it!
It’s easy to mistake the symptoms of anxiety for those of a physical illness, while some physical illnesses have symptoms that can be hard to tell apart from anxiety. That’s why it’s important to check with a health professional, to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something physical before starting this Programme.
Anxiety can have many causes. Among these are stress due to work, time pressures, money worries and relationship problems. The things that provoke anxiety are called “triggers”. Knowing what these triggers are, and how we react to them, can help us overcome anxiety. While panic and anxiety can arise suddenly, there are often signs such as an event, a memory, an emotion, a physical sensation, or a thought that appears a fraction of a second before symptoms arise.
These memories, feelings, or thoughts can happen so fast that we don’t notice them. It can help to slow down and pay attention to what’s happening, so we can find out more about our triggers.
When we understand what causes our symptoms, we take a step closer to overcoming them.
Figure 1 shows different levels of awareness as lines 1, 2, and 3. The area above line 1 is our conscious mind. A lot is happening below line 1, but only the small part of the blue area above the line enters our awareness. If we’re able to quieten the mind, shown as line 2, more information enters our awareness. If we were able to quieten our minds further, to line 3, much more information would be available to the conscious mind.
Quietening the mind can help us identify more of the things that trigger our anxiety. When we’re stressed or anxious, it’s only natural to want to “feel less”. We feel the urge to suppress difficult feelings. However, trying to do so doesn’t work, and just makes us more tense and stressed.
It’s better to have a kind of detached curiosity, where we acknowledge our emotions and sensations, before letting our attention move naturally elsewhere. We intensify what we notice, so focusing on unpleasant or difficult sensations, emotions, or thoughts, just makes them stronger.
Imagine trying to listen to one instrument playing in an orchestra. The best way is to quieten the rest of the orchestra, until we’re able to attend to the one instrument we’re interested in. Identifying the triggers for our anxiety is similar. Quietening the mind helps us identify the things that trigger our anxiety symptoms, so we have more options as to how to respond.
Fight, flight and freeze.
The changes that happen in the body when we’re anxious help us to cope with danger, and prepare us for “fight, flight, or freeze”. That is, we become ready to take on whatever is threatening us, to run away from it, or to hide. These changes happen very quickly, as a hormone called adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. Adrenaline produces many of the unpleasant sensations associated with anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweating, breathing fast and muscle tension.
Imagine you’re out for a walk, when you suddenly come face-to-face with a scary dinosaur! It starts to move towards you, slowly at first. It’s mouth opens, then it starts to run. How would you feel? What would you notice happening to your body? What thoughts would be going through your mind?
Think about and record below what you’d think and feel.
Of course, a fast and powerful reaction would be in order. Adrenaline helps us run faster, so we don’t end up as a dinosaur’s dinner!
This is all well and good, but there aren’t any dinosaurs around today. Yet the parts of the brain responsible for our life-saving responses, are much as they were many thousands of years ago.
Here’s a list of common anxiety symptoms:
- Behaviour – trembling, running away, hyper-alertness, restlessness, tiring easily.
- Emotions – fear, panic.
- Sensations – muscle tension, physical pain, rapid and shallow breathing, fast heartbeat.
- Thoughts – “I can’t deal with this”, “This will be awful”, “I have to get away”, “I’m going mad”, “I’m going to die”, continual worry, mind going blank.
Try this now. What anxiety symptoms do you have? Make a note of them below.
Next – Connections.
Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 65.