Anxiety is often triggered by stress; the brain releases chemicals into our body every time we are faced with or maybe even think about a stressful situation – consciously or sub consciously.
These chemicals, mainly adrenaline and cortisone, are sent out to enable the body to prepare for a fight or flight response. This then triggers our brains alarm system, sending a message to our body that it needs to protect itself. Sometimes if they are not used, these chemicals can build up within us causing severe anxiety or even a panic attack. Panic attacks can sometimes actually make a person fearful for their health.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Nausea and stomach cramps
- Diarrhoea and digestive problems
- Dizziness and feeling faint
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Sweating or clammy skin
- Shortness of breath and dry mouth
By fighting or fleeing, we use up the hormones that have been released and our body goes back to normal. However, sometimes we freeze and do nothing or are unable to act to respond to the threat our brain perceives, so the chemicals build up in our body… the issue is that they have nowhere to go.
When we have repeated stress, worry or negative thoughts and feelings, the adrenaline and cortisone stay within us which causes anxiety and maybe even leads to very uncomfortable panic attacks. These are an extreme form of anxiety; they may come on suddenly and cause distress. The distress alone will cause more adrenaline to be released into the body, so by allowing the attack to happen without fighting it, the result is actually that it ends sooner. The more you fight it, the worse it will get.
Remember – an anxiety attack is a burst of adrenaline, it feels awful but it is not dangerous.
What other effects can anxiety have?
Filters of sensory input to the brain may be reduced, enabling information to ‘flood’ in and overwhelm it – resulting in a person not being able to tolerate sensory information as well as they used to. This can be distressing, hard to explain and sometimes debilitating.
Senses affected by anxiety:
- Sight – bright flashing lights, busy colourful places or visual displays.
- Sound – music, groups of people talking or shutting, city noise, traffic, sirens etc.
- Smell – perfume, odours, cleaning materials, paint or food smells.
- Taste – strong or unpleasant tasting food or drink.
- Touch – clothing that is tight or irritates, being patted, stroked or some seating.
- Balance and movement – unusual rocking, tipping, rolling sensations.
This may affect you in places or situations you were fine with before, such as:
- Family events – social gatherings, large dinners, birthday parties
- Restaurants, pubs, supermarkets
- Airports, holidays, children playing.
Anxiety may also cause you to become: distressed, irritable, angry, unable to concentrate, unwilling to leave home, tired, depressed, difficulty making decisions
It may be difficult to describe this to people around you, so sharing this information may help them understand. Remember – this is not ‘all in your mind’ – it is real and it is not your fault.
How can I help to manage anxiety?
Counselling can be beneficial as talking allows us to explore feelings, how this may have happened, changes that may be needed to develop a better understanding of your emotions and sense of self. Exercise is important as it uses up the chemicals that have built up in our body. Swimming, walking, cycling, running, going to the gym or even yoga and martial arts will all contribute to reducing anxiety and managing it.
Try to work out how much sensory input you are able to manage before overload occurs and try to recognise and understand the signs. Are you able to plan your life around this as much as possible to prevent overload and the anxiety that comes with it? We can sometimes cause anxiety in ourselves by ‘negative self-talk’ – a habit of telling ourselves the worst is going to happen. Try replacing this with ‘coping self-talk’. When you find yourself thinking something negative like “I can’t do this, it’s too hard”, try to change it to something more positive like “ This is hard, but I can get through it.”
For extra tips on how to deal with anxiety and other issues, please see our relaxation page.
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