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What Is Anxiety?

What is Anxiety? 

Once again, we sit down with the remarkable Dr Shradha Lakhani to discuss mental health, and how it affects us. Today, we're talking anxiety. 

Let’s get back to basics with anxiety. When it arrives, it feels overwhelming and it feels like forever, alienating us from things that once were most important to us. So what is it?

the word 'Anxiety' under the microscope in a book

A Breakdown of Anxiety and What It Does

Quick whistle stop tour – anxiety comes from when we were cavepeople. Centuries back, living in our caves, we had to make quick rapid decisions whether to step out of our caves or not as we were all hunter gatherers. Knowing that we needed to go out to get food, we were also aware that if we stepped out, we may be food for the beasts and dinosaurs out there. Quick thinking brain therefore prepares you to fight as hard as you can, flight as fast as you can or freeze and you’re dead meat anyway – not a good option.

Both fight and flight instigate the same physiological responses – rapid heart rate as your body pumps blood to your major organs in order to survive, leaving you feeling queasy in your stomach as the blood gushes away, sweaty palms, jelly legs, dizzy head and so on.

However, all these if you really think about it – the physiological responses are also exactly the same as excitement. Isn’t that crazy!! Imagine yourself at the top of a rollercoaster just about to drop from a height and instead of experiencing the physiological responses as anxiety because the context is different your brain translates it as excitement, saying Oh my God,…. I’m going to go, wow this is going to be fun (you get the picture) and the self-talk changes.

Your Body Doesn't Know How To Respond To Anxiety

Really your body does not really know how to interpret your responses, it’s the self-talk in the brain that changes everything. You can trick your mind into believing anxiety as excitement as your mind really does not know truth from imagination. Think about why when you watch a scary film either in the cinema or at home, and you have a jump scare, you literally jump out of your skin (maybe that’s just me 😊) even though you know you are safe at home or in the cinema. Ok another example, when you read a poem or a novel and you can really identify with the character and you actually feel the same emotions in real life, whether that’s tears or a smile on your face.

Now knowing that the prime function for anxiety is to keep you safe, can we learn to make friends with it? Anxiety gets such bad press but in essence it’s your safety net and as much as there are no beasts and dinosaurs in our current world, our brains are primed to look out for threats. Any threat is interpreted and the anxiety response is therefore triggered, tripping you into fight/flight or freeze. And we all have it, you’re not the only person experiencing it despite having the magnifying glass that you’re pointing at yourself thinking ‘it’s just me’!

Moving Forward With Anxiety In Your Life - What To Do

But now you have an option, you can either see it as anxiety or if context permitting, can we start to see life’s challenges as exciting.

If the switching of anxiety to excitement doesn’t work for you, just remember – it’s time limited, in the actual instance it may feel like forever, but it won’t last forever, it peaks and drops within minutes as your body cannot sustain that level of energy. It just adrenaline so lets learn to channel it effectively.

Quick ways of utilising the adrenaline is to work out as you will lose yourself in that zone. If the context means that you don’t have access to a power walk or have to be reserved in some ways, whistle (yes that’s right, try it) or sing to yourself. It’s amazing as your body will just know how to find it’s own rhythm in the breathing which in turn will settle your anxiety. And if all this fails, just remember nothing lasts forever, and  as the saying goes - “this too shall pass”.

Dr Shradha Lakhani

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