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Anxiety Symptoms, Anxiety Cause, What can I do about it?

What is it?

Anxiety is a natural response to feeling threatened or unsafe. Consider that early Human beings date back over 2 million years. According to historical data it is generally accepted that advanced civilisation began to flourish around ten to twelve thousand B.C. The relative safety and security we enjoy today is recent. For our ancestors dealing with truly life threatening situations was an everyday occurrence. Historically that might  be predatory animals who see us as a meal, warring tribes, famine, drought, plague, pestilence, ice age...you name it...as a species we've endured it! Why is this relevant? Well, it's simple. The human being has a powerful built in warning system to deal with these very real threats. This warning system is primitive in nature since it has been with us from the very beginning. In many ways one can say it is a part of the "animal body," and indeed the area of the brain that is associated with the warning system response is often referred to as the "mammalian brain". When we feel threatened in some way, then the warning system is activated and we experience fear, anger or depression. 

Fear is the feeling that tells us to either leave a situation or to not go into that situation in the first place. The assumption by the animal mind is that we are in danger.  By design therefore fear is necessarily extremely uncomfortable because it's purpose is to get our attention so we take evasive action! This is fine when the danger is real, but is crippling when the anxiety/fear mechanism is responding inappropriately to every day situations and stimuli which really don't require evasive action. 

We can experience anxiety in response to a single stimulus (phobia) or we can experience generalised anxiety too (Generalised Anxiety Disorder). Panic is a form of extreme fear which is caused by a build up of anxiety over a period of time which is suddenly released causing an "anxiety panic attack". Panic does not usually exist in isolation (without anxiety generally being present). If you are experiencing panic attacks, then you can take it as a given that your anxiety generally is far too high. 

What causes anxiety?

Excessive stress is the primary cause of anxiety. We experience stress when we feel overwhelmed, and any number of factors can cause us to experience stress. Stress is very subjective, and our individual tolerance to stress also varies greatly.   Here are just a few of the most common forms of stress, but this list is by no means exhaustive. The first bullet point here is perhaps the most important cause of stress. 

  • Disempowerment - A lack of power or influence over one's life.

  • Poor sleep (Also a response to stress as well as a cause).

  • Victimisation (Being bullied).

  • Losing a loved one (Bereavement or the loss of a relationship)

  • Family difficulties (Children, sex, divorce, lovelessness)

  • Boredom/Lack of direction in life.

  • A lack of time or energy to do everything that needs to be done.

  • Poor self-image/Lack of self-worth.

  • Negative Thinking

  • Negative Outlook

  • Guilt, Blame and Shame.

  • Financial difficulties (Debt!)

  • Misuse of drugs/alcohol.

  • Work pressure.

  • Illness.

  • Loneliness

  • Failing Relationships

What can I do about it?

There are really three options available.

1)  Change your circumstances - If your circumstances are such that you are practically unable to manage them (even if you were not stressed), then those circumstances need to be changed. This might be a tough decision since your choices might involve loss or sacrifice in order to gain your peace of mind, but here it is a question of priorities. Mental and emotional health should come first because put simply, quality of life can be ruined by anxiety.

2) Change the way you view/feel about yourself and/or your circumstances - If you are sure that your circumstances are practically manageable, but you are just responding to them poorly, then this basically means that your emotional brain is over-reacting. Changing the way we think and feel about things is really the basis of recovery from anxiety. A very important area to consider when healing anxiety is developing kindness and compassion towards ourselves. If we are at war with ourselves then we have a problem because disliking oneself causes terrible internal conflict.

3) What we truly cannot change we must accept- This really needs little explanation as a principle. We have to take our cue here from inspirational people, and remember that people are extremely resilient when they choose to be. There is always a positive perspective available if we choose to open ourselves to it...even if that perspective is purely philosophical. It is a difficult fact of life that there sometimes exist tragic circumstances. We have to find a way through such things. It is our will to accept what we cannot change that will dictate the depth of our suffering and our peace. As difficult as the situation may be we must recognise that non-acceptance will only add to our suffering. Again, commitment to healing is what begins the process. Therapy can help here, and therapy can include self-help too. 

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