All the worry, over analysing things, fear, panic, jumpiness, and so on has a single function. The job of anxiety is to keep us on high-alert to any possible danger.
Fear keeps us safe. We’re not born with many fears, but we learn lots of them. Whenever we feel we might be in danger that activates our self-preservation system.
The fear reaction uses our body to ready us for a crisis. We get a knot in the stomach, or perhaps a tight chest. We might sweat, feel faint, or find we’re shaking. All these are responses that come from our fight/flight systems coming online.
Our thoughts race. Rapid thinking is good in a real crisis but makes concentration and good long-term decision making harder. We also see all the problems, but few of the positives. This makes perfect sense if we’re being mugged for example. We need to instantly be able to notice all the dangers and calculate the responses to those risks in a moment.
In a real crisis it’s all useful.
The problem is that when we stay on alert past a useful time, then things get hard. What might be a useful but uncomfortable response to a real threat becomes anxiety when it doesn’t switch off.
When we’re on edge the whole time the mind examines everything to see if there is a danger. That feels like everything is wrong. We pick up on tiny things and they become big things in our mind. We go back over trivial things people said or did and it can be like a compulsion – we can’t get it out of our mind.
As we lie there trying to sleep at night it seems louder and more insistent. All the distractions of the day are over, and we’re left with the system of worry running when we can notice it more easily. We toss and turn and go over and over things in our mind and sleep doesn’t come easy.
Anxiety is when that being-on-alert for something dangerous is simply continuing all the time. When it’s been ongoing for a while, we can get conditioned to it and it can run and run all by itself until we do something to reduce the problem.
Anxiety makes us react to more things and thus creates stress. Because we worry about more things the brain signals our body to activate the self-preservation systems more often, and for longer. This creates physical and emotional stress in our brain and body.
Our self-preservation system is only interested in your short-term survival – will we be alive in ten minutes or an hour? It doesn’t look at what is coming later. It doesn’t care what we’ll be doing next year, and it doesn’t care if we feel happy. It’s a simple system designed to keep us alive. If we’re being mugged or slipping on ice it’s our best friend, but when it is switched on and kept on long term, it’s a real problem.
We feel bad, our mind constantly spots chances to fail and sees only what could go wrong, our immune system drops leaving us open to get more colds and infections – and they might linger, we can become absent minded – forgetting what we came into the room for and so on.
In some cases, the mind can create larger reactions like panic attacks. That can be like a volcano. The pressure builds bit by bit over the years as the anxiety runs, then at some point it overwhelms our ability to manage it and erupts into panic. It might be extra stress, a traumatic event, or just that we’re worn down by the anxiety for too long.
The stress can pressure our physical health with damage to the cardiovascular system, amplify Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and cause fatigue.
The odd part is, it does all this to help keep us safe from an apparent threat or danger. The real issue is that our mind has wrongly identified which things are dangerous.
That’s where we can change it big time.
We’re not born with many fears. We don’t even have a fear of fire until we learn it by burning ourselves. We can become conditioned to worry and anxiety, by the hurts and stresses we experience in life.
The good news is that the cycle of anxiety can be reduced and even eliminated for most people. Our bodies and minds grow accustomed to those responses and that is a reversible thing for most of us.
I went from decades of anxiety to where life is much easier and where the positives are present. I can enjoy life, succeed, no longer procrastinating, holding back, or worrying without reason all the time.
I’m not the only one. Here’s what happened for a former anxiety sufferer I worked with:
“A fantastic and life-changing experience, the difference in life feeling free from anxiety is indescribable. …After decades of anxiety I am now finally living instead of just getting through it.” – Fionnula
Our constant worry, fear, nit-picking, snappiness, negativity, holding-back, and anger can all come from anxiety, as can a lot more.
The feeling of being overwhelmed can devour our lives. Too often we try to deal with each part individually – such as trying to reduce anger for example, without realising that reducing our anxiety can make all the elements better.
I could have been treated for general anxiety, phobias, IBS, muscle pain, stress, anger, etc. But until I dealt with my underlying anxiety life stayed hard.
These days life is utterly different. I have been able to put myself out there in the real world and enjoy my work. I’m enjoying being a father. I don’t hold back, I don’t worry needlessly, I’m enjoying life.
If I was to give one piece of advice to anyone still suffering anxiety, it would be: be gentle with yourself. Don’t blame yourself for feeling bad. Too often we beat ourselves up
for how the anxiety holds us back. Piling bad feeling on top of already feeling bad.
If someone avoids a social situation because of anxiety or panic, they then feel bad for not going. Essentially blaming themselves for having anxiety. Anxiety is real. There’s no need to feel bad for suffering anxiety. Recognise it if it’s present and work to reduce it, but don’t add blame for feeling that way.
Anxiety is the mind putting us on high alert and not switching off. Your brain is on your side. It’s working flat out to stay safe, but it’s using the wrong learnings in life to do that, and it’s forgotten how to switch off.
It’s not ‘Mad, Bad, or Sad’ it’s just a useful function switched on all the time, even when it’s not needed.
Hope this helps understand what’s going on with anxiety.
Change is easier than you think.
I’m always happy to chat about how life can improve so feel free to get in touch if you like.
Have a great week,