Anxiety and Stress

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength - Corrie Ten Boom.

Anxiety is an evolutionary response to danger and as we are mammals the most basic requirement of the human brain is to ensure survival. When we sense threat, messages are sent in two directions, both to our conscious brain and also to the amygdala which is situated deep within the unconscious brain. The messages are sent much more quickly to the unconscious and by the time the messages reach our conscious brain, the body is already primed for action. This is why we experience sensations such as raised heart rate and breathing, increased respiration and dry mouth (as blood is channelled away from the digestive tract to the mouth).

This is all well and good for our ancestors grappling with the threat of attack by a bear or for us when, for example, we act to the risk of a traffic accident because the body quickly goes back into equilibrium once the threat has been met. Unfortunately, though the unconscious brain cannot distinguish between physical danger and psychological distress and so with chronic stress or anxiety meaning that the body does not return to equilibrium. The physical and emotional symptoms of stress are anxiety are manifold, ranging from insomnia to headaches, digestive upsets to constant fatigue. If your body is compared to a home, it can feel as though the house alarm can never be turned off or is sensitive to the very slightest movement.

When suffering from acute or chronic stress and anxiety, it is natural to want them to disappear completely from our lives. But being anxious about being anxious can perpetuate the vicious circle and we know that the world would be a very dangerous place if our sensors were not working. And so, it is more about recalibrating than disabling the alarm and learning to sit with and accept certain levels of stress and anxiety can feel liberating.

It may be useful to maintain a diary to better understand what your triggers are and when you feel at your most vulnerable. There are also many useful relaxation techniques, including mindfulness, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Visualising places where you feel safe and calm can be very helpful.

Often stress and anxiety can be made worse by how we perceive the threat. For example, feeling anxious before a job interview because you are worried that you will mess it up and people will then think you are a failure. Changing these unhealthy thought patterns can really help to alleviate the suffering. In order to do so, it can be beneficial to understand where these thought patterns stem from, as often they are deep rooted from childhood.

Finally, it is easy to overlook the fact that lifestyle changes can make a real difference. Regular exercise, even gentle walking, can work wonders. We often use alcohol and caffeine to help us cope with stress and anxiety but to excess, they can make matters much worse, leading to a negative spiral.

Stress and anxiety are probably the two most common mental health issues of today. The good news is that there are many avenues that can be taken to help alleviate these often debilitating conditions. By working together, we can find the right one or combination that will help you.