Dealing with anxiety: the symptoms and causes

A large number of the clients that I see every week are suffering from some level of anxiety. From a one off fear of giving a wedding speech or taking a driving test, to suffering panic attacks when leaving the house, to a general constant anxiety that just feels overwhelming.

Each anxiety can be debilitating and can affect a persons confidence, self esteem, sleep, appetite and mood.

But what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a word we use to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something.

It is helpful to know that the physical symptoms of anxiety are part of the ‘flight or flight’ alarm system response, that is actually responsible for protecting our survival.  The fight or flight response can be seen as one of the most important parts of our make-up – a highly efficient survival response for dangerous times. Back then, threats were simple and straight forward but often very dangerous like the attack of a saber tooth tiger, but now in the 21st century the threats are less about our survival but still ensure the same survival instinct.

In modern society we don’t usually face situations where we need to physically fight or flee from danger, but our biological response to feeling threatened is still the same.This is why anxiety levels are increasing in our modern day worlds as the ‘threat’ of the amount of emails we have to answer, the ‘threat’ of juggling home life and a career, and the ‘threat’ of being a success (whatever success means to you) can all create the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body even though our survival doesn’t depend on getting those emails answered.

It is good to be aware of what happens in the body to prepare you for the perceived threat. This understanding often helps my clients to let go of some of the anxiety that anxiety causes! We are then more able to work on freeing them from the ’cause’ of the perceived threat.

When the body activates the ‘fight or flight’ response, adrenaline is released into the blood from the adrenal glands. We experience uncomfortable feelings because the adrenaline makes the body systems speed up, diverting blood towards the big muscles of our bodies, preparing us to attack or escape.

What the body does when you're anxious

  • The brain is hijacked as thoughts race making it hard to think clearly. In a real threat we need to react instinctively.
  • The eyes widen to let in more light which improves vision and creates tunnel vision. In a real threat it means we focus on only the information needed at the time.
  • The mouth dries up due to a narrowing of the blood vessels as it sends blood flow elsewhere.
  • The body heats up and sweats which is an affect of the systems of the body speeding up. In a real threat sweating allows the  body to cool and to become more slippery for escape.
  • The heart beats faster causing palpitations, allowing more blood to the muscles and an ability to be able to run away from attack.
  • Our head becomes dizzy which is due to our increased breathing rate. In a real threat this helps to pump more blood and oxygen to the muscles.
  • Our breathing speeds up and is shallow allowing us to take in more oxygen to pump the muscles.
  • The stomach churns as blood flow is directed away from the stomach and the muscles relax. Digestion is not a necessary part of survival in that moment of threat so it could cause nausea, butterflies or a need to go to the toilet.
  • Our hands can tingle and legs tremble (jelly legs) as blood is diverted to the largest muscles and small blood vessels constrict, causing tingling, trembling and numbness.

After the adrenaline has died down and the perceived threat has been removed we can feel exhausted, shaky and weak.

I have found that sharing what is happening in the body when a person is experiencing anxiety, can be very helpful in reducing the fear of the situation. Clients are then more comfortable when it happens, start to feel more in control of things and we can get on with working on where the mind has ‘got it wrong’.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you would like to discuss your problem in more detail and find out how hypnotherapy can help to break the faulty ‘fight or flight’ response please contact me for a free initial consultation.