The continuum of anxiety can be experienced from a propensity to worry about most things at one end, all the way through to obsessive and compulsive behaviours that can severely impact your life at the other end.
To define anxiety, the textbooks would say: ‘Anxiety is a negative mood state characterised by bodily symptoms of physical tension and apprehension about the future’ (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
From my research and observation through practice, I believe we feel anxious for two fundamental reasons:
- There is a part of us that feels unsafe and that our needs won’t be met– physically or psychologically.
As a result, we then try to feel more in control of our internal and external worlds.
- Our subsequent behaviour might look like micro-management, rigid thinking, a short fuse, nagging, overstepping boundaries, perfectionism and ritualistic behaviours.
- The second reason is that we have difficulty trusting that we can cope with challenges and uncertain outcomes.
- This can lead to us taking fewer risks and being less adventurous and curious.
The thing is, you’re probably not aware you feel unsafe or that you’re having difficulty trusting yourself to cope because it’s happening at a subconscious level – an unconscious, involuntary, reactive level.
For this reason, it can make overcoming anxiety tricky. However, with the right tools and techniques we can access the subconscious level to uncover and transform the underlying causes of your anxiety.
Types of anxiety
Anxiety is complex and exists on a broad continuum. Here are a umber of different types of anxiety:
- Generalised anxiety disorder – almost daily worry and concern about the future that has gone on for at least 6 months
- Often with fretful thoughts and feeling overly responsible for everything, including others’ behaviour and reactions to you
- Performance anxiety
- especially if you feel you’re being assessed, judged or put on the spot
- Public speaking, performing and presenting
- Social anxiety – in group settings, work or business meetings
- Panic attack – an abrupt experience of intense fear or acute discomfort, often when there is actually nothing to fear
- Phobias – e.g. snakes, heights, tight spaces, public spaces that trigger a survival reaction
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – due to experiencing trauma during which you feel fear, helplessness and/or horror (can be one event or a series of events)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – a devastating combination of the anxiety disorders where control and predictability over dangerous life events seems so hopeless that sufferers resort to magic and ritual.
* If you’re concerned that the anxiety you’re experiencing has gone on for too long, is ‘not normal’, getting beyond your control and having a significant impact on your life, please seek medical advice in the first instance.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
- Feeling overly worried or nervous about the future – expecting the worst
- Excessive uneasiness or apprehension, without knowing why
- Controlling behaviours and inflexibility – for yourself & others, perfectionism
- Feeling disconnected from your partner, family and/or friends
- Pre-occupied with future possibilities and uncertain outcomes, rather than living in the present
- Very difficult to control or stop worrying, even when you know it’s not helping
- Brain fog, headaches, blurry vision, ringing in ears & difficulty focusing
- Chest pain, tightness in muscles, shallow breathing
- Digestive system imbalances – stomach tied up in knots, gas, diarrhea
- Adrenal or chronic fatigue, sleep issues
- Nail biting, fidgeting, flicking fingers, playing with hair & other nervous habits
- Smoking & comfort eating to soothe yourself – especially craving sweet foods
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety can be triggered by a number of different things or a combination of them, for example:
- Daily stress & overwhelm experienced for extended periods of time
- New experiences – job interview, meeting new people, travel overseas
- Unexpected events such as a car accident, break-in, flood or unexpected death
- Uncertainty in relationships, employment prospects, health outcomes, financial security
- Significant stressful event – marriage, divorce, difficulties at work, death of a loved one
- Biological vulnerabilities (sensitivity of particular brain circuits) – due to smoking in teens, for example
- A genetic predisposition – an inherited vulnerability to stress
- Learnt behaviours from parents who are uptight or highly-strung
- Unstable and/or insecure upbringings OR overprotective & over-intrusive parenting – both impact your ability to control your environment
- Unresolved traumatic events that keep a part of you feeling unsafe & wary
- Social disconnection or feeling like you don’t belong
- Don’t feel comfortable in your own skin – fear of others’ judgment & rejection and lack strong sense of self
Mild anxiety experienced on a consistent basis can be stressful and slowly but surely erode your body’s ability to self-regulate and stay healthy and balanced.
If you experience severe anxiety for an extended period of time it could lead to a nervous breakdown. It’s important to address any level of anxiety before it leads to mental health issues and/or chronic physical pain.
How to deal with anxiety
Anxiety treatment with an integrative counselling and coaching approach provides a multi-pronged process that addresses your whole system.
- Physically – we need to support your body to relax so you’re not so wired for survival reactions and the adrenal glands and muscular-skeletal system can rest. Anxiety drains your energy, which can compromise your immune and digestive systems and physical health in general.
- Mentally – we want to address any trauma patterning and any ‘thought viruses’ or limiting beliefs that negatively impact your: 1) self-image, 2) ability to cope with situations, and 3) ability to take control of your life and set healthy boundaries.
- Emotionally – we need to address any underlying fears you have associated with uncertainty, unresolved trauma, and family behavioural patterns and early bonding with your parents that still contribute to your anxiety. Learning strategies to help develop your emotional resilience is essential.
Quick tip for dealing with anxiety
Repeating positive affirmations is a very helpful tool to help you turn off the stress response in your body and to calm your anxious thoughts.
How to use affirmations. Simply repeat them until you feel your system start to calm down. Remember, when you’re anxious you’re in an involuntary reactive state. Repeating affirmations can help you to become present and give you the opportunity to make a conscious, voluntary choice.
Try one of these:
- I am relaxed and calm feeling free.
- I am in control of my destiny feeling confident and at ease.
Here’s two more examples:
- I am capable and supported feeling safe and excited.
- I am letting go and going with the flow, feeling faith and trust.
Anxiety can severely impact your health and limit your choices, social interactions and enjoyment in life. Don’t live with it.
Make overcoming anxiety a priority and get help today!