One of the most common reasons people come for counselling is to learn how to manage anxiety, worry and over thinking.
As humans, why do we often feel so anxious? Our human ancestors survived by learning how to be quiet, timid and very careful. In a world where most large animals were stronger, faster, more vicious and armed with teeth or claws, the best way for humans to survive was avoidance. Although we don’t face those large hairy predators today, we have inherited the ability to be scared, to scan our environment for danger and to panic. And unfortunately, this ability can be used habitually and inappropriately. Once we have learned that a certain situation is dangerous by panicking, the mind ‘remembers’ this fact to ensure that the next time it sees a similar situation, it can give you the necessary response to enable you to fight or to run away. Some people eventually find it too difficult to go outside the safety of their home at all and have to give up a job and a social life.
Fight or flight is an essential part of what it is to be human and has evolved to keep us safe. But if this fear response is over active and fires when it is not needed, it can result in over-worrying, avoidance, phobic fears and panic attacks. As these develop it becomes more and more difficult to live your life, which in turn makes you feel more anxious and so feeds the problem. You might describe anxiety as like a dog chasing its tail – our body feels an anxious feeling and this transmits to your mind which then looks to see why and what is going on. And what it looks for it will find which in turn will further raise the feelings. So levels continue to rise – just like a dog chasing its own tail.
Are anxiety and stress the same thing?
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 start to feel anxious about being anxious.
Worrying and overthinking
Overthinking is a tumbling chain of worries, vague thoughts, and specific thoughts. Worry is an essential, normal, and 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.
Some of the most common worries we have are as follows:
- Insecurity (“I live in a threatening world.”)
- Perfectionism (“If I make mistakes, I will be a failure.”)
- Need for control (“If I lose control, I am in danger.”)
- Social comparison (“People will think I’m a loser.”)
- Pessimism (“The world is filled with dangers.”)
- Low tolerance for stress (“How can I protect myself if I’m all stressed out?”)
- Worrying about a multitude of obsessive thoughts, sometimes scary ones and thinking about them constantly (intrusive thoughts or obsessive compulsive disorder)
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with anxiety, worry and over thinking, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.