Anxiety can be challenging to live with. For many people it causes constant stress, worry, fear and isolation. When Anxiety isn’t managed effectively it can be extremely debilitating to an individual’s quality of life. Anxiety not only affects the individual dealing with the condition, but also family and friends.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders. It affects over 2 million people in Australia. With numbers in mental health conditions on the rise, it is crucial that as a society we continue to create awareness. And offer support for people suffering from Anxiety and other mental health conditions.
The symptoms of Anxiety can be all consuming. Often we feel powerless when it’s triggered and get stuck in a vicious cycle. It might feel like there is no way out. But I can assure you from my own experience that Anxiety can be managed effectively. You can learn to take back control of your life and free yourself from its hold.
The first step is learning to understand Anxiety and identify your triggers. Avoiding it will only magnify its symptoms. Although it may feel like a burden Anxiety actually serves a purpose, it acts as your internal messenger. Sending you warning signals, asking you to pay attention to something. Or prompting you to acknowledge what needs to come up at that particular time.
You can begin to identify what’s triggering your Anxiety by paying attention to your body’s response. Notice the symptoms that appear, both physical and mental. E.g. shortness of breath, panic, fear, trembling or intrusive thoughts. When you learn to identify the signals, you can name them and it begins to take away some the power Anxiety holds over you.
By becoming aware of your triggers and responses you begin to separate the symptoms of Anxiety from yourself. You learn to understand that Anxiety doesn’t define you, it is not part of your true nature. This is empowering because you realise you have the ability to take back control of your life.
Five things you need to know about Anxiety
1. Identifying Irrational Thoughts and Behaviours
Those with Anxiety often experience thoughts and display behaviours that may seem irrational or nonsensical to others around them. These are learnt behaviours that gradually become patterns, used as coping mechanisms for dealing with fears when they arise.
Anxiety can cause you to have a distorted perception. Including attempting to control situations in order to feel ‘safe’. Irrational and fearful thoughts such as, “something really bad is going to happen if I don’t do…” Or “I can’t leave the house because people will be staring and judging me.” May cause you to display obsessive behaviours or severely overreact to a particular situation.
Behaviours that accompany these irrational thoughts are an attempt to control a situation. They give the illusion that if you perform a particular task a certain way or distract yourself, the fear will disappear. Unfortunately this only reinforces the learnt coping patterns and increases Anxiety.
Becoming aware of these thought patterns that trigger irrational thoughts and behaviours, then assessing their veracity, slowly begins to break the cycle. Identify the truth of the fear e.g. Ask yourself, “Is this really the truth?” Or “Is this fear life threatening to myself or others?” By pausing and questioning the fear. You begin to lessen the occurrence of irrational thoughts and behaviours.
2. Identifying Fears
The worst thing for someone dealing with Anxiety is to be told, “don’t stress.” Or even worse, make them feel like they are being ridiculous for worrying about something. It’s important to understand that the fears that stem from Anxiety, whether audibly big or small can feel very real, scary and even debilitating.
Anxiety can be triggered by the smallest action, like deciding what to choose from on a restaurant menu. Hearing a certain noise or being in a shopping centre. No matter how insignificant the fear may seem, it feels big and overwhelming to a person with Anxiety.
Every fear is valid, it is a trigger from past experiences. A time when you felt ‘unsafe’. If you experience Anxiety, it is important to acknowledge that what you are experiencing is your body’s response to a perceived threat. Anxiety is just a warning signal. It is asking you to pay attention to the sensations in your body.
When you begin to experience anxiety, fear and overwhelming thoughts. See if you can identify the ‘trigger,’ the perceived threat. Ask yourself, “What are the fears I am identifying with?” And “What has caused me to become anxious?”
Take some time to sit with what arises for you. Acknowledging it rather than avoiding it. With practice and awareness the fear begins to lose its power over you.
3. The Need to Feel ‘Safe’
When Anxiety sets in, our immediate response is to seek safety. This is because Anxiety triggers our fight-or-flight receptors, which activate the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Preparing the body to respond to danger.
Our fight-or-flight response is essential to our survival. The problem for Anxiety sufferers is, the brain responds identically to both perceived threat and real danger. Therefore your fight-or-flight response is constantly being triggered. Putting your body under constant psychological stress.
It is common to seek reassurance from others or by frantically researching information/answers online. Another coping mechanism is using avoidance. Feeling the need to escape a situation. Both of these strategies can further increase your Anxiety as it’s a way of avoiding what is coming up for you.
It’s important to pause and address the triggers which cause you to feel unsafe. It may be helpful to remove yourself from a particular situation. Retreat to a ‘safe space’, to quietly reflect and calm yourself.
Ensure that you feel safe and supported when addressing these fears. Even repeating a calming mantra such as, “I am safe.” Or picturing yourself in a tranquil and peaceful setting can help to calm your SNS.
4. Feeling Withdrawn or Selfish
When you feel anxious you become so caught up in your internal world, possibly feeling like you are unable to deal with the external world. Anxiety is all consuming. The noise and chatter inside your mind is a constant distraction from those around you. This is why people with Anxiety can be mistakenly perceived as selfish or withdrawn from others.
Elle Rogers article on Medium explains, “Anxiety does not make you selfish. Nor does it make you self-entitled, a burden, or any number of other things you might tell yourself. It makes you a human being grappling with an intruder in your psyche.”
The truth is, majority of people with Anxiety actually care so deeply about others. Most of the time us anxious folks are obsessing or worrying about everyone else. It’s the internal pain and discomfort that sometimes holds us back from engaging and expressing our feelings.
Anxiety is a master at keeping us trapped in our internal world of fears. It can feel very isolating and those with Anxiety often feel separated or misunderstood by others. So it’s important to identify when your anxiety has its claws into you and try not to suffer in silence. Open up to those closest to you, explain how you are feeling and keep yourself open to the power of connection.
5. Mind Tricks and Questioning Your Reality
Anxiety is known to play tricks on your mind and even cause you to question your reality. You may feel like you are living in a constant fog, or dream like state, feeling out of touch with the world around you and constantly questioning what is true and what is not. You may even experience the sensation of dissociation, a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity.
If Anxiety is causing you to question your reality and become disconnected, this can be extremely debilitating to your quality of life. It can lead to further symptoms such as, derealization and depersonalization: A persistent feeling of being detached from one’s body or mental processes.
If your Anxiety becomes unmanageable, or you experience symptoms that are debilitating to your life in any way. It’s recommended to seek professional help such as Cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication if appropriate. There is no shame in suffering from Anxiety or asking for help.
Remember, learning to understand your Anxiety and identifying the triggers will gradually take away it’s power. Anxiety doesn’t define you, nor does it need to have to control your life.
We need to support one another to feel safe talking about Anxiety. Including creating a deeper awareness around this topic. Do you suffer from Anxiety or know someone that does? Share your comments and stories below.
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