Anxiety is a mental and physical response to situations that we interpret as dangerous. This is a normal reaction that anyone can have, for example, when speaking in public, when we have an important appointment or before an exam.
This physical and mental sensation, arising from a primary emotion, fear, can help us to get out of what we consider dangerous, or give us extra energy to successfully exit from this dangerous situation.
Because the symptoms of anxiety are unpleasant, we may tend to view it as an enemy, rather than seeing it for what it is, a defense mechanism, an alarm that warns us and helps us in the face of danger. . The goal is not to avoid or eliminate it, but to learn to listen to it and to manage it.
Anxiety can become a ‘problem’ when symptoms are very severe, they take too long, they are very frequent, they appear in situations which really should not be interpreted as dangerous or stressful or, in general, if we limit our daily life, to become dysfunctional people, instead of functional.
How to identify anxiety?
What we think, what we do, or the way our body reacts can be manifestations of anxiety. This way, anxiety appears at the cognitive, motor or physiological level.
On a cognitive level, there are thoughts that automatically come to mind when we experience anxiety. These thoughts tend to be irrational, such as “I’m going to watch”, “This is horrible”, “I can’t take it”, “I’m going crazy”, and so on. The spirit warns us of a danger far greater than that which we really face.
Behaviorally, when we suffer from anxiety, we are likely to avoid things like going out alone or talking to people. When we avoid the situation that causes us anxiety, we immediately feel better; but in the long run, avoidance will generate an association between anxiety and what is avoided making it more difficult to cope.
In addition, anxiety too it may make us feel like we need to do certain things, for example, repeatedly check that all the doors in your house are closed or that all furniture is free of dust. Other behaviors such as hypervigilance or speaking quickly (even bulky words) can also occur in people who suffer from anxiety.
Finally, at the physiological level, we can highlight many symptoms that present themselves as a form of prepare the body to face a suspected threat. They are usually very unpleasant and can sometimes appear without us knowing the reason. However, these symptoms are not dangerous and will not harm us. For example: headache, palpitations or tachycardia, shortness of breath, shortness of breath, shortness of breath, chest tightness, extremity sweating, tremors, blurred vision, dizziness, chills, dry mouth, fatigue, ringing in the ears, muscle tension, headache. stomach, nausea, frequent urination, etc. Most people experience only some of these symptoms, not all of them.
So, we can begin to notice anxiety through thoughts, behavior, or the body, and the anxiety response in each of these areas influences others. This keeps the body alert, creating a vicious cycle that keeps anxiety away.
Why does anxiety appear?
Today it can be said that there are many factors that can trigger anxiety. It can often start when we are going through periods of significant stress.. For example: pressure at work, taking exams, loss of a loved one, financial problems, lack of sleep or diagnosis of illness.
When we feel stressed, a response has been triggered since prehistoric times and has helped our ancestors survive. Our bodies release adrenaline, preparing us to escape or fight as soon as the threat arises.
In this way, a series of physical changes take place: muscles contract ready to run away or fight, heart beats faster to carry blood to the brain and muscles (where more is needed at this time), breathing quickens to provide the necessary oxygen and thus generate sufficient energy, etc. When the threat is overcome or subsides, this response fades and a feeling of exhaustion may arise.
With this in mind, we can react in this way to a number of things that concern us. When we constantly feel overwhelmed by concerns that are important to us, the body is constantly on “alert” and symptoms of anxiety appear.
It should be noted that some people have a greater predisposition to anxiety than others, such as those who have an anxious personality or who have had difficult experiences during their childhood, etc.
What is an anxiety attack and what can I do about it?
An anxiety attack can be defined as the sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches its maximum expression within a few minutes and, during this time, symptoms may appear such as: palpitations, sweating, tremors, choking or suffocation, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, chills, tingling, loss of consciousness or depersonalization, fear of losing control or dying.
When a warning signal is perceived or anticipated, the brain sends messages to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system, as its name suggests, works autonomously, that is to say without our will intervening. It has two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (SNP). The NHS activates the fight-or-flight response and the SNP is responsible for returning the body to its normal state.
Thus, the activity of the NHS has a limit, which means that anxiety cannot continue indefinitely or increase to harmful levels, as the SNP is a protective system that will bring the body into a state of relaxation, preventing the NHS to run the course uncontrollably.
As we said before, when we are faced with danger, our body performs a response which, most of the time, involves a very common symptom: hyperventilation. When you breathe rapidly, carbon dioxide decreases in the blood, changing its pH and at the same time generating other symptoms such as dizziness, tingling, palpitations, etc., already mentioned.
For that, it is important that during an anxiety attack, we try to breathe slowly, inhaling little oxygen; we connect with our environment; keep in mind that we will not die and suffer no harm, because the symptoms are unpleasant, but they will pass. We’re not going to go crazy either.
Can I control my anxiety?
I’m sorry to tell you that anxiety cannot be controlled because if it did it would be enough for it not to manifest or we could quickly remove it from our interiors if it did.
Corn the fact that it cannot be controlled does not mean that it cannot be managed when it appears. Good emotional management is synonymous with well-being.
In order to be able to deal with anxiety, you need to know what it is and how it works i.e. consider the above points. Additionally, we can learn and practice a number of techniques or tools that will help us adaptively manage emotions, for example, cognitive restructuring, problem solving, or diaphragmatic breathing.
Author: Maribel Martín, psychologist at the Psychology Report Center