Understanding stress and anxiety
Anxiety and stress are currently affecting more and more people and can often be the result of negative thinking or worry. Unfortunately, anxiety can impact many aspects of life including relationships, work and sleep as well as eroding confidence and happiness. So, finding ways to overcome stress and anxiety can be vital to your well-being and enjoyment of life.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be described as a feeling of worry, dread or fear and can be experienced at different levels from mild to severe. Feeling anxious is a normal reaction that we experience at one time or another and may be because of a job interview, a driving test or because we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. In small measures, anxiety isn’t a problem for us, however, feeling anxious over a long period of time can affect our everyday life.
When we feel threatened our brain activates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response which is our body’s internal protection system. Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released as a result which help us to stay alert and focused, and our blood supply is redirected to the major muscle groups so that we can run from danger or fight our way out of it.
It can sometimes be difficult to understand why someone has anxiety but there may be environmental and biological factors involved which can include hormone imbalances, medical conditions due to illness or disease, genetics, life experiences, trauma and change of circumstances such as moving house or losing a job.
Symptoms of anxiety
- our heart beats faster feeding our body with oxygen
- butterflies in the tummy because blood is redirected away from digestion which is not needed for getting out of danger
- dry mouth
- tunnel vision so that we can focus on danger more clearly
- breathing becomes quicker and shallower which can make us feel light headed
- decreased appetite as it is harder to run on a full stomach
- racing thoughts so that we can quickly evaluate threats, however, we will only be focused on the threat instead of solutions
- release of adrenaline and cortisol to give us a boost of energy so that we can run or fight
- some people freeze, a normal reaction so that a predator won't see you so easily
Categories of anxiety
There are many different categories of anxiety such as:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) which is a condition where anxiety or worry over several things has been present for at least six months. The sufferer may excessively worry about several things on a daily basis which can interfere with daily life and ability to focus and concentrate on specific tasks.
Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is a persistent fear of being around people in different social situations. It can range from not being able to eat in a restaurant, feeling anxious when answering the telephone or going to the shops.
Panic disorder is when someone has regular or frequent panic attacks for no apparent reason which can range from one or two a month to several each week.
Anxiety related phobia is an excessive, irrational fear of an object, a situation or an activity which poses little or no real danger. A person suffering from a phobia will often go out of their way to avoid the situation or object.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing terrifying or stressful events. A person with PTSD may have flashbacks, nightmares, problems sleeping and coping with everyday life.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition when someone has compulsive behaviours and compulsive thoughts. A person may have obsessive urges, thoughts or images which causes them distress or they may have a compulsion to carry out a particular behaviour to prevent something terrible from happening such as needing to wash their hands frequently so as not to catch a disease.
What can you do to reduce anxiety and stress?
There are many ways to help reduce your anxiety and for many people their first point of contact is their GP who may refer you for a course of talking therapy or medication if this is more suitable. Many people turn to an alternative practitioner such as a hypnotherapist for help with their anxiety.
A hypnotherapist can teach you relaxation techniques as well as helping you to discover the triggers and thought patterns that produce anxiety so that you can change your responses to ones that are more helpful for you.
Another helpful thing you can do is control your breathing. You may find that when you are anxious your breathing speeds up or becomes shallow. You may also find that you are chest breathing which also triggers anxiety. So, take control of the breath. Take a long slow breath in through the nose for a count of four and slowly breathe out through the mouth for a count of six.
As you breathe in, imagine the air going all the way down to your stomach and actually feel your stomach rise and fall as you breath in and out. Keep doing this until the anxious feelings start to subside, it may take a while but keep at it.
What you are doing is slowing down your heart rate which will help calm your body and mind. It is helpful to do this every time you feel anxious or even before you go into an anxious situation so that you can reprogram your reaction to those stressful situations into a more helpful response.
It can be very daunting when you first reach out to someone to talk about your feelings, however, this can be an empowering first step to taking control of stress and anxiety so that you have a more positive response to stressful situations.
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