(a.k.a. stressed, worried, overwhelmed, panicked)
Clues that you may be struggling with anxiety*:
You feel stressed, worried, panicked, on edge, scared, or irritable
You can’t concentrate or stop your thoughts from racing
You’re on edge waiting for something bad to happen
Your body feels exhausted or restless
You may sweat, tremble, or have palpitations or nausea
Anxiety is part of a normal, healthy emotional response. The problem is when we feel anxiety so often (or don’t stop feeling it), that it becomes the usual state of our bodies and brains.
Stress seems like a given in our daily lives, where the new norm is jam-packed days, gut-wrenching news reports, and the feeling that you’ll never get it all done.
But when you can’t shake worry and tension; when your mind won’t stop spinning with thoughts; when your shoulders and neck feel like they’re locked in place, it’s time to take a closer look at your anxiety.
In addition to that general sense of worry and stress, the term anxiety also includes panic and phobias.
Panic and panic attacks
A panic attack can be a truly scary experience. Your mind may be worrying about something that might happen. But your body reacts as though you’re in actual danger. You may hyperventilate, sweat, tremble. You may feel like your heart is racing or like you can’t breathe. Your mind and body feed off of the signs of fear shown by the other. It’s important to learn skills that let you break this cycle—(deep breath)—and let your mind and body calm down.
Another form of anxiety is a phobia— a specific fear that doesn’t necessarily make logical sense, but feels quite real. Common phobias include a fear of seeing a house spider, riding in an airplane, or being outside in wide-open spaces. Other phobias are more general, such as being in a social situation. Obviously, phobias can take a toll on social relationships, making a living, and pursuing things you love to do. There are effective ways to work through these fears and free yourself from their limitations.
The price of anxiety
Anxiety is part of your body’s emergency response system. You know: fight, flight, or freeze.
It’s a great system for responding to a life-or-death situations. Our bodies release powerful chemicals (like adrenaline and cortisol). Muscles get ready to lift up a car like Superman. Our heart and blood vessels get ready for serious effort. Then later—once we know we’re safe—all those reactions reverse themselves and things go back to normal.
But if we trigger the stress reaction on a regular basis, things don’t get a chance to go back to normal. Our muscles stay tense, those stress hormones end up taking a toll on our immune system and the emotion-body feedback loop, the heart works overtime. These and other physical costs of chronic stress response have been demonstrated in many studies.**
So, all of that is to say: some anxiety is normal. Too much can be bad for your body as well as your mind. There are lots of effective ways to manage and reduce stress, anxiety, panic, and phobias. Let’s get on that.
* These common signs can help you recognize your experience, but they’re not meant for diagnosis. People experience different combinations of symptoms, so you probably won’t relate to all of the ones listed.
** Contact me for links to research.