When anxiety gets the best of you ... Part 1 of 2

Per request, I decided to focus in today’s blog on anxiety, including benefits and downfalls. Self-help tips will be covered in part 2 of this blog.

Some of you who are struggling with anxiety probably are wondering what could be good about having angst? The quick answer is, it helps us to survive! Without a healthy amount of fear you already would have jumped of a bridge, run in front of a car or played with a poisonous snake. It is genetically encoded in us to help us survive most of the dangers this world has to offer. However, anxiety does not only have biological factors, otherwise, our children would not have the motivation to try anything new. It also has a learned aspect through observing others and experiencing, at times dangerous, situations.

When anxiety kicks in, our body does something quite extraordinary. It increases our breathing rate to provide more oxygen to the body. Our breath becomes shallower, our heart rate increases, blood flow will be directed to the muscles and we experience a rush of adrenaline. All of these changes prepare us for a “fight or flight” response. Meaning we either face the fearful situation with all our muscle strength or run away. In some rare cases when the anxiety-provoking event is so dangerous or the feeling so strong we may even pass out or escape it by dissociating (altered state of mind). But this is a totally different discussion, which would be better covered in a blog about trauma (great book to read concerning trauma: “The boy who was raised as a dog” by Bruce Perry).

So here we go, quick benefits of feeling anxiety: It protects us from possible dangerous situations and helps us to survive by increasing our body’s physical functions for a certain period of time.

 So why then do people struggle so much with anxiety?

The answer is: too much anxiety is the problem. Anxiety becomes a burden and restraining factor when overly generalized to various triggers, events or stressors.  When anxiety is experienced too often, it keeps a person stuck and does not allow him/her to try or learn new things. Too much anxiety will lead to muscle tightness, headaches, exhaustion, hyperventilation, higher risk of developing cardiovascular and other health problems plus mental health problems like for example depression, or substance abuse.

How much is too much and why me?

Well, in the mental health field we usually say it is too much if it interferes with your daily functioning. If you cannot leave the house, have trouble sleeping, entering an elevator, be in crowds or constantly worry that something bad is going to happen, you probably struggle with some daily live activities. Like stated earlier, anxiety is genetically engrained in us, and research suggests that anxiety disorders also run in families. Additionally, when for example your mother used to scream when seeing a big spider while you were a child, there is a chance that you have learned spiders are dangerous and developed some fear. Now, experiencing something very traumatic that maybe gave you the feeling of not being in control and possibly fearing for your or a loved ones life can create anxiety and triggers that keep reoccurring.  Also, there is something called secondary trauma, that can create anxiety by hearing about a devastating event even though you were not there. This is often common in mental health workers or by watching too much crazy news. To be continued…