What is anxiety?
Fight. Flee. Freeze. That’s anxiety summed up in three words.
We all have this mechanism stitched into our being. It’s human nature. Actually, it’s animal instinct! Something comes along and causes us pain. Our body remembers it. And when a similar threat crosses our path in the future, we leap into the fight-flee-freeze response.
When this happens, hormones like adrenalin and cortisol and released so we can stay alert and make quick decisions. It also makes our hearts beat faster, so blood gets to our limbs ready for us to make a run for it – or stay and fight.
That means anxiety is helpful.
It tees us up to avoid pain or embarrassment or hurt in our lives. It keeps us alive. Heck, it’s helped our species survive.
But it’s not all good. Sometimes, our worries hold us back – and keep us from leading the life we truly desire. That’s the anxiety I deal with every day. That’s the anxiety that probably brought you to my blog.
That’s the anxiety we can learn to overcome.
Is stress the same as anxiety?
Nope. There’s a big difference between stress and anxiety.
Stress: worrying about an external problem or situation (like losing your job, or fighting with your partner). This comes and goes. Once the problem is solved, you’re back in balance.
Anxiety: when our worries won’t go away. You feel anxious all the time, and fret about the future. Life might be fine and dandy, but your body is still responding to stress. Those worries start to affect your everyday life, and you can’t remember a time when you weren’t tense.
What is anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is actually an umbrella term for many different disorders. Like:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is what I battle with every day – although I’ve learnt how to mostly overcome it.
You might be diagnosed with GAD if you worry most days, and you can’t really remember when you were last chill. Sometimes, I realise my jaw has been locked and my shoulders raised for days!
Speaking with other Worry Warriors, I’ve noticed many of us have GAD and social anxiety disorder. So while we don’t worry about any particular thing most of the time, we may also find it hard to go to social events – or even spin into an anxiety spiral at the thought of leaving the house.
I call this the Worry Warrior Double Whammy! Ok, I just made that up. But it really is a double dose of anxiety – worrying most of the time, and really freaking out in social situations.
You may also experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Trouble concentrating
- Shortness of breath
I know, it’s not fun. And the thing with GAD is we can’t always pinpoint where it started. Bit by bit, stress builds up, our fight-flee-freeze response is triggered round-the-clock, and suddenly we’re exhausted. Overwhelmed. And pretty bloody close to a breakdown. I’ve been there, I know how frightening that can feel.
How to overcome your anxiety
I once heard a wonderful way to think of your anxiety. Imagine your worries are a bucket of water. Over time, stress triggers fill the bucket until it overflows.
How do we avoid the overflow, the overwhelm?
Drill some holes in that bucket, baby!
Start taking small steps every day to get some of that water out. You could try therapy (this one’s kinda essential), journaling, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, herbal teas, walking in nature, connecting with loved ones, and doing something that brings you joy – like horse riding, swimming, scuba diving, painting, knitting, baking…
Let’s say parties petrify you. Every time an event rolls around, you fret about what to wear, how to get to the party, who to talk to, and what might go wrong.
So instead of putting yourself through that hell, you stay home and watch Netflix in bed with the curtains drawn.
This is caused avoidance.
I know it’s tempting to steer clear of the situations that freak you out. But it actually makes your anxiety worse – and harder to overcome.
Just think: when the next party invite arrives, your mind (through thoughts) and body (through the fight-flee-freeze response) will convince you that parties are scary and should be avoided at all costs.
And that means you never get the chance to see if parties can be fun. And you never discovered if your fears about the situation were correct.
So what can you do instead?
Slowly, safely, in a supportive environment, sample the situations and experiences that worry you.
This is called exposure.
Say yes to dinner out with a friend – someone you know well and trust. Then prepare yourself with the calming techniques I mentioned earlier. Go along to dinner, and allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Give yourself permission to have fun in a safe space, and connect with someone who cares about you.
Next time, try a bigger event with more people. Over time, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about parties. Pinky promise.
So now you have a general overview of what is anxiety, why it happens, what it feels like – and some tricks to stick holes in your stress bucket and enjoy life in all its glory!
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