By Licia Ginne, LMFT
All our emotions and feelings have a purpose that serves us in a positive way. Anxiety’s origins are fear and excitement, the feelings of fear warn us that there is danger ahead and we should act cautiously. The excitement comes with the anticipation with something new or unfamiliar. When we encounter danger our feelings alert us, and we respond by preparing our bodies to either stand and fight or prepare to flee (fight or flight syndrome).
Anxiety develops when we live in a constant state of heightened stress, fear or conflict. It is as if the fear and excitement button gets stuck and we become flooded with feeling. We are constantly in a state of defensiveness, defending ourselves from actual physical harm or threat, or a perceived harm or threat. When we grow up in abusive families we adapt by living in this heightened state of stress that feels so normal we are not even aware of it. When we live under constant stress our bodies pay the price, we can develop different chronic conditions, chronic anxiety, depression or other illnesses take their toll.
I sometimes think of anxiety or panic attacks as our body’s way of trying to get our attention but we keep ignoring the message until our body takes drastic action. Experiencing anxiety or panic attacks will certainly command one’s attention.
Symptoms of Anxiety
• Unrealistic or excessive worry • Unrealistic fears concerning objects or situations • Exaggerated startle reactions • “Flashbacks” of past trauma • Sleep disturbances • Ritualistic behaviors as a way of with dealing with anxieties • Shakiness • Trembling • Muscle aches • Sweating • Cold/clammy hands • Dizziness • Jitteriness • Tension • Fatigue • Racing or pounding heart • Dry mouth • Numbness/tingling of hands, feet or other body part • Upset stomach • Diarrhea • Lump in throat • High pulse and/or breathing rate • Impatient, irritable and easily distracted • Dread, certain something bad will happen, if not now later.
The treatment of anxiety disorders can include medication, psychotherapy and behavioral techniques. It is important to learn how to manage stress in your life and how to calm yourself down when you start to become anxious. This can be done by identifying what is frightening you (real or imagined), making a plan to take care of yourself while at the same time soothing and reassuring yourself that you are in charge and you will not abandon yourself. If you can calm yourself down you can reduce the anxiety. Calm your breathing, take in deep breaths with slow exhales to avoid panting, this will help insure you are getting in enough oxygen to slow your heart rate down. If you go to the article on stress it discusses the fight and flight syndrome in greater detail with more explanation on how to manage these feelings.