What is Anxiety?
Updated: Mar 28
We hear people say “I felt anxious” or “my anxiety is playing up today” But what are they actually referring to?
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear and it varies in intensity. It is usually driven from what we think may happen in the future.
What happens in our bodies?
When we perceive a threat, our "fight or flight" response, our sympathetic nervous system is activated.
This system was devised when we were cavemen. If we crossed paths with say, a sabre tooth tiger, our hearts would beat faster. Pumping adrenaline and cortisol around our blood. This enables us to make instinctive responses to save our lives as we wouldn't have had time to think of an escape strategy.
Nowadays, there aren't any sabre tooth tigers hanging around. However, our bodies treat perceived threats in the same way.
When we are stressed, our fight or flight system is activated. If this happens over a period of time and we don't enable our “relax and digest system”, the parasympathetic nervous system, we can become susceptible to anxiety.
Anxiety is caused when the body has been under stress for a period of time this then becomes anxiety.
How does anxiety show up?
Some people may feel anxious giving a public talk whereas others may feel anxious leaving their own home.
It can show up in different ways, one of the most common is excessive worrying. It is called “The What if game!” We spiral around in our mind coming up with new inventive ways of “What if this happens” and “What if that happens”.
To some level the majority of people experience anxiety but in varying degrees of severity.
We all experience it very differently, so for some, concentrating may be hard for others sleepless nights may be the symptom or it may be a constant sense of unease.
Some of us aren’t even aware that what we are experiencing is anxiety. We think that we are “fine” and because we don’t “feel” anxious there is nothing wrong with us.
Anxiety is not just a feeling it is also excessive thoughts, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and potentially headaches.
It can be crippling and stop you from doing things you need to do and at its worst those you love. It’s that feeling that stops you from completing what at times seem like a simple task such as trying different food or visiting somewhere new.
So rather than going into the big superstores to buy our full shopping for the week, we might stick to our local shop which although overly priced feels safe to us.
Anxiety can show up when we are looking for a promotion at work and don’t put ourselves forward out of fear of rejection.
Some ways anxiety can show up:
Avoiding seemingly “easy” tasks
Not leaving the house
Lying awake at night
Heart beating fast
A knot in your stomach
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Stress is our initial response to a perceived threat.
Anxiety is what happens when we start to overthink about what could happen in spite of this.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and hopefully, after the initial threat, we are restored back to normal functioning. Anxiety is when we remain in "fight or flight mod"e for a period of time. Our bodies becomes overloaded.
Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?
Fear could be described as the feeling you get when seeing a thief jump out from behind a bush, anxiety is the feeling you might have while wandering through the alleyway, wondering if a thief is hiding behind the bush.
Is all Anxiety bad?
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, this is normal and anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing.
Anxiety puts our bodies on high alert. It means we are able to perceive threats quickly and deal with them faster.
For instance, if we are anxiously preparing a report we may be more aware of errors as we are hyper-focused.
In life decisions, we can be more mindful in our choices. Say our partner is ready to get married, our anxiety can show us red flags that we need to address before settling down.
By pumping us full of adrenaline and cortisol we are more present and alert. Ideal for exams and getting out personal best on a 10k run.
If we were to approach life with no anxiety whatsoever we could make big life decisions without much thought. Potentially, we could end up marrying the wrong partner, move to a city we hate or climb a corporate ladder we have no real interest in.
When to reach out for help?
Knowing when to get help can be difficult. Especially if you have always been anxious you may not know any different.
If you find yourself second-guessing every decision you make or worrying all the time then you may benefit from getting some help as you learn to manage your anxiety.
It is very common and hinders a lot of people living life as they imagine. If it is impacting your everyday life such as leaving the house then seeing support is strongly advised.
If you are finding everyday life manageable but can't go after bigger goals such as starting your business or starting a family then support could help you navigate those.
Anxiety keeps us playing small. It makes us doubt taking the steps we want by filling us with fear.
If anxiety is impacting your life on a daily basis and/or you long to live life in a different way then getting support could be right for you.
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