Have you heard that phrase? Have you said that phrase? It can be a sentence that immediately pops up in our minds when we or others have an abrupt change in behavior, or we act in a way that is outside of our norm. Often times the trigger for those changes is anxiety.
Anxiety is a common human experience that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness about something that is uncertain or threatening. Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger, but when it becomes persistent and affects daily life, it can be a debilitating disorder. There are various factors that contribute to why people experience anxiety.
Physical Symptoms: Anxiety can manifest in a variety of physical symptoms. Common physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, stomach discomfort, shortness of breath, and headaches. These physical symptoms are the body's response to perceived threats or danger. They prepare the body to either fight or flee from the perceived threat.
Cognitive Symptoms: In addition to physical symptoms, anxiety can also impact a person's thoughts and emotions. Common cognitive symptoms of anxiety include racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, constant worry or fear, and negative self-talk. These symptoms can lead to a cycle of anxiety, where the person becomes increasingly worried and stressed, which in turn leads to more physical symptoms and increased anxiety.
Behavioral Symptoms: Anxiety can also impact a person's behavior. Common behavioral symptoms of anxiety include avoiding situations or activities that trigger anxiety, seeking reassurance from others, and engaging in compulsive behaviors to reduce anxiety. Avoidance behaviors can be particularly problematic, as they can interfere with daily life and prevent the person from engaging in enjoyable activities.
Some common behaviors and reactions of anxiety are:
Avoidance: When a person experiences anxiety in a particular situation, they may avoid it altogether to prevent feeling anxious. This can lead to a pattern of avoidance that can impact daily life and prevent the person from engaging in activities that they once enjoyed.
Compulsive Behaviors: Compulsive behaviors are repetitive behaviors that are performed to reduce anxiety. These behaviors can range from checking the door multiple times to ensure it is locked, to excessive cleaning or organizing, to seeking reassurance from others.
Hypervigilance: Hypervigilance is a state of heightened awareness and vigilance. It is often associated with anxiety and can lead to a person being constantly on the lookout for potential threats or dangers.
Procrastination: When a person experiences anxiety about a task, they may procrastinate or avoid completing it altogether. This can lead to increased anxiety and stress over time.
Irritability: Anxiety can also manifest as irritability or moodiness. When a person is anxious, they may be more likely to snap at others or become easily frustrated.
Difficulty Sleeping: Anxiety can also impact a person's sleep patterns. Many people with anxiety struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
Panic Attacks: Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of anxiety that can cause physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat. Panic attacks can be very distressing and may lead to avoidance behaviors in the future.
What drives anxiety in us?
The fight, flight, flee, or fawn response is a big contributor to anxiety, is frequently referred to as simply the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is a physiological response that occurs when an individual experiences stress or perceives a threat. The response prepares the body to either fight, flee, freeze, or fawn to stay safe from the perceived danger by releasing stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger a series of physiological changes. While this response is designed to protect us from harm, it can also contribute to anxiety when triggered inappropriately or in excess.
The fight or flight response involves a number of physical sensations that can be uncomfortable or frightening. For example, the release of adrenaline can cause increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and sweating. These physical sensations can be similar to those experienced during a panic attack, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear. Additionally, the fight or flight response can be triggered in situations where there is no real physical threat, such as public speaking or taking a test. This can lead to increased anxiety and can make it more difficult to manage stress and regulate emotions.
Individuals who experience anxiety may have a hypersensitive fight or flight response, meaning that their body may overreact to stressors or perceived threats. This can lead to increased anxiety and difficulty managing stress. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder may experience intense anxiety when being with of a group or just being out in public, even though there is no physical danger present.
In addition to causing anxiety, the fight or flight response can also have negative effects on the body over time. Chronic stress, which is associated with a prolonged activation of the fight or flight response, can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and decreased immune function. Additionally, chronic stress can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder
There are several ways to manage the effects of the fight or flight response on anxiety. One of the most effective ways to manage anxiety is through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety by promoting relaxation and reducing muscle tension.
Exercise is another effective way to manage anxiety by reducing the physical effects of stress on the body. Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. Exercise can also help to reduce muscle tension and improve overall physical health, which can help to reduce the negative effects of chronic stress on the body.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can be effective in managing anxiety. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. By learning to identify and challenge negative thoughts, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety more effectively and reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.
In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage the symptoms of anxiety. Speak with a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner to decide if medication may be the right fit for you. Deciding whether or not to take medications can be quite stressful, and it has often been talked about in a negative light. I always encourage people to think about this: if you had diabetes you would provide medication to your help your pancreas. If you had a heart disease you would take medication to help your heart. If you have anxiety is it any less worthy to take medication to help your brain?
Hopefully, knowing other ways anxiety may sneak in to our lives and the different ways it presents it self can help you become more compassionate for yourself as well as supportive and empathetic towards others.
What are some ways anxiety has unexpectedly shown up in your actions or behaviors? What is one thing you wish others knew about anxiety?