These are associated with avoiding and/or dealing with danger and involve our body, mind and behaviour.
x_ Breathing becomes more rapid.
x_ Heart beat speeds up.
x_ We feel dizzy and light-headed.
x_ We get 'butterflies' in our stomach.
x_ We feel sick and/or need the toilet.
x_ Our mouth becomes dry and it feels difficult to swallow.
x_ We sweat more.
x_ We feel 'jittery' / 'jumpy' / 'on-edge'.
x_ We feel frightened.
x_ We may tell ourselves that we are physically ill, having
a heart attack or a stroke or going mad.
x_ We think people are looking at us.
x_ We worry that we may lose control or make a fool of
ourselves in front of others.
x_ We feel that we must escape and get to a safe place.
x_ We make excuses to avoid going out or doing things.
x_ We hurry out of places or situations where we feel
x_ Walk to avoid buses, cross the street to avoid people.
x_ We may have a drink or take a tablet before doing
something we find stressful.
These symptoms aptly demonstrate the mind and body working together and the behaviours this can lead to.
Everybody has anxiety, even confident people. We may look at other people and think that they are more confident than us, but that is not always the case, confidence exists on different levels. Some people are very confident in some
situations and not so confident in others. The problem is not
anxiety itself, but what we think about it, and the first part of curing these problems involves understanding and controlling the anxiety. To do this we have to know how it works.
Imagine you're lying on a beach. It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze wafting over your body. Sounds of nature fill the air as you chat and laugh with family and friends. You are surrounded by people that you love and respect and who love and respect you. You feel warm, contented and happy, totally relaxed, anxiety-free.
Now imagine a very different scene. It's the dead of night and you are alone, walking down a dimly lit alley. There are doorways on either side – who knows what's hiding in them waiting to pounce? You are scared and your senses are heightened. Your sight and hearing have become more sensitive, able to pinpoint the slightest movement or sound. Your breathing and heartbeat have become more rapid, you feel light-headed and dizzy, want to go to the toilet or throw up. Your limbs feel shaky and your whole body is now charged with energy, full of anxiety, ready to fight or flee, possibly for your life.
These two scenes represent either end of the anxiety scale. In the first we feel warm, secure and safe, we are fully relaxed. In the second we are fully tense, in a state of preparedness, highly alert and scared.
Anxiety probably serves many functions, but two of the main ones are:
1. It helps prepare our body for action, making us more alert,
ready to fight or flee from any imminent threat to our survival. This is related to the direct physical anxiety symptoms such as racing heartbeat, fast breathing, being jittery and on edge,
trembling etc. We can also go from being totally relaxed to
fully tense in an instant which forms the basis of panic.
Physical anxiety symptoms are due to the 'Fight or Flight' response. The body re-directing resources to the major muscle groups (legs, arms, chest) to provide them with an energy boost to prepare us for action (ultimately to fight or flee).
The Fight-or-Flight Response
x_ Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen
for these muscles into the blood.
x_ Our heartbeat speeds up to get the blood to the muscles
x_ Blood is diverted away from parts of the brain (making
us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
x_ Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested
food in our system so we have to get rid of it quickly – either through the mouth (feelings of nausea) or the other end (wanting to go to the toilet).
x_ Other 'energy-wasting' systems (unnecessary in time of
danger) are shut down. For example, saliva production, which results in a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
The same happens with panic, but here things are more
intense and happen almost instantaneously for when panic occurs the danger is usually right on us.
2. Anxiety also causes us to plan ahead for any potential dangers and how we may deal with them. An excellent survival strategy (it's better to deal with any possible danger or avoid it before we get into the situation) but an unfortunate effect of this is that we can get nervous and anxious just thinking about situations.
A main ingredient in the cause of certain anxiety disorders this is related to symptoms of the mind such as persistent negative thoughts and excessive worrying. Here, anxiety builds up as we think about situations. For example:-
x_ Worry is the main symptom in generalized anxiety
x_ In social anxiety disorder/social phobia we worry
about, or plan to avoid some feared social situation in the future.
x_ Worry and planning in OCD can be seen in the rituals
As with the fight-or-flight response, self-protection lies at the root of all such planning and worrying.
To get anxious in certain situations is normal, everyone does. And most people even experience increased anxiety frequently. As mentioned earlier, things like tests, interviews,
public speaking, dating, performing and competitive sports
can make anyone pretty anxious.
But for some people things change ... anxiety gets stronger. It comes on more and more and seems to happen for no apparent reason.
Some may stay like this: generally too anxious, feeling apprehensive and 'on-edge' frequently. Physical symptoms associated with anxiety often start to appear.
For others, increased anxiousness, if not resolved, can lead to more serious problems such as uncontrollable worrying, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, irrational fears and phobias, even severe depression.