All about anxiety

Fear and anxiety are healthy protective emotional reactions to real or imagined threats, however, when you start to experience them in excess they can become maladaptive and cause you a great deal of pain and suffering. They can stop you from reaching your goals and living a fulfilling life.

In this and the next two blogs we are going to investigate fear and anxiety.

As I sit here writing this blog, I can recall the anxiety I felt in the months before writing my first post. I kid you not, it took me over nine months to gain the confidence to write and publish my first post.

I was anxious that I wouldn’t write engaging posts and that my grammar and punctuation would make me look foolish. I am sure you know of someone who compulsively criticises and corrects people’s mistakes, typos, misspellings, and other errors in writing or speech. I remember the feelings I felt, I was immobilised, I couldn’t think of how or what to write. I felt very nervous, and had trouble concentrating, I had difficulty sleeping and I ruminated about all the things that could go wrong. So, I avoided writing. 

When I did try to write I had an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.

I think the anxiety spread to other areas of my life too! It felt like a heavy cloud hanging over me.

As mentioned above, this blog is about fear and anxiety so let’s look at the definition of both.

The difference between Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are quite different. 

Fear is the feeling of immediate danger in our environment. We are notified of these through our senses. For example, you may be able to touch, hear, smell or see something which induces you to feel fear. You could feel a spider crawling on your arm, hear footsteps approaching you from behind as you walk alone under a subway, smell smoke in your home or, see a car speeding towards you as you cross the road. Fear is the automatic reaction that promotes a rapid response to danger and helps to keep us alive ( the fight or flight response).

Anxiety is slightly different. Anxiety reacts to your emotions and not the immediate danger in the environment. Fear gives you energy for movement, however, anxiety immobilises and pushes the energy back down. To overcome anxiety, you need to find out which of the other emotions you are trying to silence (push back down). For me, it was shame and humiliation. I remember being chastised by my father as a child for not grasping grammar quickly enough, this was then reinforced when my university lecturers would do the same with my essays. That led me to associate writing with shame and humiliation, which triggered my anxiety. 

Looking at the situation in more depth I can see that I was feeling anxiety and not fear as there wasn’t an immediate danger in my environment.

Performance and anxiety

My anxiety was excessive but, a little anxiety can be a good thing. It can improve performance ( as long as it’s not so much that it immobilises you). Think about a time when you didn’t care about the outcome of something. When you don’t care and you aren’t motivated, you don’t tend to rise to the occasion. If you are on the sofa watching Netflix, you are not going to be motivated to clean the house, however, if you experience moderate anxiety then you’ll have just the right amount of motivation to get the job done. Let’s say you’re hosting a girls night at your place, the thought of entertaining gives you just the right amount of motivation to clean your home. But, if you are overwhelmed and became too stressed or anxious you’re likely to avoid the situation. Now imagine that the house is a mess and the baby is sick and you are supposed to be having hosting dinner for a group of friends and one of them is particularly picky. In this situation, you may feel overwhelmed, not clean your home and cancel dinner.

Different Types of Anxiety

Anxiety can come in many different forms, here is an overview of the most common types:

Social anxiety

If you or anyone you know has experienced a long term overwhelming fear of social situations you may have experienced social anxiety.

Social anxiety is more than shyness, it impacts everyday activities ( going to work, talking to mums at the school gates), self-confidence, relationships and even talking on the phone. It tends to start in the teenage years and it can continue throughout life.

A few symptoms are:

  • Worrying about everyday activities 
  • Avoiding social activities such as group conversations and eating with family and friends ( I used to avoid going out to eat with my friends when I was in high school- one friend asked if I knew how to eat with a knife and fork!)
  • Fear of being criticised and low self-esteem
  • Panic attacks 

Generalised anxiety

Generalised anxiety is the inability to control worries. As a result, there is a constant feeling of anxiety and you may feel restless or worried. 

Symptoms include :

  • trouble concentrating 
  • dizziness 
  • heart palpitations.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The key symptoms of OCD are frequent obsessive thoughts or behaviours. The obsessions can be unpleasant thoughts or images that repeatedly enter your mind and cause feelings of anxiety disgust or unease. For example, OCD can happen in women during pregnancy or soon after giving birth. The new mum may worry about harming the baby or not sterilising the bottle properly.

She may also have the compulsion to repeat a behaviour or mental act to relieve an unpleasant feeling or thought such as checking whether the baby is breathing.

Specific phobias (heights, spiders)

A specific phobia is an extreme fear of an object, person, animal, activity, place, feeling or situation. Phobia comes from the Greek Phobos meaning fear or horror! It’s more than just being afraid, generally, you can avoid whatever scares you (unless it is directly in front of us) and live your life as normal, however, if you have a phobia, you may feel anxious just thinking or talking about your fear. This can have a real impact on your daily life to the point where you plan your life around avoiding the object of your phobia. For example, you may avoid going swimming because you have a phobia of other people’s hair on the floor touching you (yep, you guessed it… That’s my fear).

Do any of the anxieties above resonate with you?

Do you have any fears or anxieties that negatively impact your life?

Feel free to write your answers in the comment box below and get the conversation started.

We will leave this here for now. 

In the next blog, we’re going to look at measuring and treating anxiety.

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