What IS Anxiety?
We all know how it feels but what IS anxiety? Is it the same or different to stress?
Anxiety is essential and normal. It’s an instinctive emotion that has been hard-wired into humans to help us survive. We worry about something because we perceive it as a threat to our existence and worry causes us to focus on it and protect ourselves from that threat. Unfortunately, worry can escalate from a healthy, practical means of protection to a preoccupation with perceived threats that are incredibly unlikely.
Is it the same as stress?
While there is definite overlap between stress and anxiety, the two emotions come from two different places. With stress, we know what’s worrying us (our job, our relationships, our finances) but with anxiety we become less aware of what we’re anxious about in the moment and the reaction becomes the problem. We even start to feel anxious about being anxious.
Symptoms of Anxiety
We tend to think of the racing thoughts and that feeling of dread we get in our gut, but there are all kinds of possible symptoms, depending both on the individual and the circumstances. They are divided into five general areas and we will look at each one in turn:
- Physical symptoms
- Anxious thoughts
- Anxious behaviour
- Interpersonal symptoms
Some of the most common ones are:
- Numbness and tingling
- Dizziness or nausea
- Chest pain
- Tension in body, especially neck and shoulders
- Stomach upset, butterflies in stomach
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness in legs
- Inability to sit still or relax, sleep problems
Anxious thoughts run along pretty much the same lines as depressed thoughts – and these three patterns are very common:
- Tending to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening and to underestimate our ability to cope if something negative did happen
- Becoming more all-or-nothing, black and white “can’t see the wood for the trees”
- Thoughts feeling rigid, stuck, same thoughts going round and round in your head (known as “rumination”)
Avoidance is the number one behavioural symptom of anxiety. People avoid situations and actions they fear will trigger anxiety or where they’ll be unable to escape. People may avoid social situations especially involving people they don’t know very well, or avoid busy shopping centres because they feel particularly anxious there. They may overcompensate for anxiety by working extra hard which can lead to workaholism. Some types of anxiety involve both over-checking and under-checking. For example, someone with an eating disorder who is anxious about their weight might sometimes weigh themselves very frequently or sometimes avoid weighing themselves, or check their appearance in mirrors a lot or totally avoid catching sight of their reflection in a mirror or glass.
Emotions and Anxiety
All kinds of emotions can be mixed into the experience of anxiety: fear, anger, irritability, impatience, sadness, shame, guilt and hopelessness. It’s worth taking a few moments when you are feeling anxious just to check in with yourself and ask yourself exactly which emotions you are feeling. Sometimes simply accepting “yes, I’m a bit fearful and a bit sad” can help to lessen the grip of the anxiety.
Interpersonal Symptoms of Anxiety
We might retreat into our shell and avoid human contact as much as we can. Or conversely, may need more reassurance especially from those close to us. We might fear becoming dependent, unable to support ourselves financially or incompetent and this can affect our close relationships. We might snap at those around us. Some people might avoid sex because the physical sensations such as increased heart rate and body temperature, feel too similar to symptoms of anxiety.
Book a counselling session today!
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with Anxiety and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.