Is anxiety holding you back? Learn how to kick it to the curb
Don’t suffer in silence. You’d be surprised how many people experience anxiety
Fear is a natural part of the human condition. That fight or flight instinct that kicks in when we sense danger is sometimes vital for keeping us safe from harm. But sometimes this response can become mixed up in the brain when we have been confronted by an exceptionally stressful period in our lives or a traumatic event. The fear response then kicks in every time we feel threatened by feelings we connect to this. This is often referred to as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and some sufferers also go on to develop panic disorder. Think of these two conditions as rather like a faulty smoke alarm; meant to go off to alert you to the danger of fire, but regularly blasting out a warning signal when you overcook the toast! That’s because anxiety is triggered by a misfiring of the danger responses and the more these triggers go off the more we tend to recoil away from things that can cause us to feel exposed and vulnerable.
A first panic attack can completely knock you for six. These debilitating episodes are so overwhelming they can actually make you feel like you are going to die. Whilst in the grip of one, a whole host of symptoms will present themselves and if you have never experienced one before they can send you in the direction of the emergency room, believing you are having a heart attack. Rapid breathing, a tight chest, shaking, sweating and the feeling that you may faint are just some of the physical symptoms. These coupled with an overwhelming sense of doom can have such a devastating psychological impact on a person that they begin to change their behavior so that they can limit their exposure to what they believe is triggering these severe responses. In some extreme cases this can even lead sufferers to completely cut themselves off from the world and they develop agoraphobia .
The key thing when dealing with anxiety is to recognize the symptoms early on, so that you can avoid ending up in a situation where you restrict your life so much that you can’t carry on your normal daily routine. I have been working with GAD and panic disorder sufferers for the past two decades, using a combination of specialist therapies to help liberate them from the emotional prison in which they find themselves. More often than not, these feelings have begun in childhood and when left untreated carry on and magnify when sufferers hit adulthood with all of the pressure this often entails. Many describe having a persistent feeling of worry or stress at the back of their minds, which threatens to overcome them at any point if they don’t work hard to control it. Of course, this in itself can be emotionally draining, as having an anxiety disorder can mean you are hyper vigilant; always aware that a panic trigger could lurk around any corner.
In my view, seeking professional help is essential, but there is also a lot you can do for yourself on a daily basis. For example, simply limiting your caffeine intake can help to reduce those feelings of nervous tension. Also having a regular sleep schedule that includes a period of device free relaxation before you go to bed can have very beneficial effects. Insomnia is a key contributor to feelings of anxiety, so good quality sleep is absolutely vital when addressing the problem. If you tend to lie awake at night, thoughts racing through your mind, then keeping a notepad by the bed to jot down your feelings can also help you to put those thoughts to one side and deal with them when you are feeling refreshed and have greater clarity.
I’m a great believer in listing the situations you know trigger feelings of anxiety. Rank them from least anxiety causing to most, and then plan to expose yourself to the situation which causes you the least anxiety for a few minutes a day. Doing this repeatedly whilst being mindful of how your anxiety rises and then falls can help you to build up your tolerance to these emotions and begin to control them. Starting small and taking your time to move forward will help you to make progress. Sharing your journey with someone who understands and can support you along the way will also strengthen your resolve when confronted by those feelings of fear.
Having dedicated my life’s work to helping people overcome panic and anxiety, I know that there is hope and there is a way to be free from it. Don’t suffer in silence. You’d be surprised how many people experience these feelings and if you have the courage to reach out for help things will get better for you.