Listening to our anxiety

I will spend the next couple of blogs considering anxiety and how we can learn how to meet it, understand it and live well with it.

Anxiety is known to all of us. It can have a positive impact, ‘healthy anxiety’, in that it acts as a drive or a motivation to do something and the tension that is created sees us complete the task. However for some of us, it can become a life limiting and very negative experience, throwing obstacles in the way of us enjoying life and participating in it.

There can be distinct moments when we notice that the anxiety we are experiencing is hampering our lives, such as having a panic attack; or we become aware that we have apparent negative prescient patterns associated with certain situations, for example social settings or around flying. Alternatively, we may become so familiar with feeling tense that it feels normal to us and possibility it’s someone else who notices that our reactions to certain situations are not serving us well.

Anxiety has a very noticeable cycle and is explicitly manifested physically and through our behaviour and is based on our interpretation of an event or a thought that comes into our head. We have indicators of our anxiety that are available to us readily. Through our bodies, our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviours.

I am going to use an example throughout in order to illustrate how a person may experience a form of anxiety and the impact it has on them. If someone is either chased or bitten by a dog, they may develop a fear of dogs.

If we take the example of the person who has developed a fear of dogs. If that person sees a dog approaching, the person affected may notice they cross the road to avoid the possibility of encountering the dog and that their heart rate increases while doing so, they may also feel afraid. What we may often miss are the thoughts that accompany the behaviour, the physical sensations and the feelings. Our body has almost immediately gone into reactive escape mode, as it should if it feels under threat. If that person crosses the road to avoid that dog, what are they trying the bypass?-most likely the belief that the dog will try to attack us (thought). There may be other thoughts that fleet in and out so quickly that we are unable to catch them.

Our physical reactions and behaviours are very logical responses in the body to what it understands as a threat, this message is delivered by our brain’s interpretation of what we encounter.

We may primed already due to other life experiences to have a bias towards one interpretation of a situation than another-for example years of being picked on in the school yard may lead us to be anxious in social settings. Alternatively something particularly negative may have occurred in a situation that has registered with us and lead us to develop avoidant behaviour, such as the example above.

There is an interconnectedness between the components in the anxiety cycle-we sustain our anxiety by how our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and feelings interact with each other. My next blog will consider this further.

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