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Managing Anxiety

What is anxiety?

We all have feelings of anxiety at different points in our lives, irrespective of age, gender etc and it affects our thoughts, physical reactions, moods and behaviours. 

It is a perfectly normal response to feeling under threat and prepares the body for action. For example, if a dangerous animal chases us, then this response is helpful in preparing the body for action.

If however, when we have the same fearful reaction to everyday challenges such as shopping, going outside, attending a social gathering for no apparent reason, it becomes a problem that needs addressing as it may prevent us from doing what we want to do and so affect our day to day living. If not addressed and managed it can lead to a person withdrawing from people and activities with life becoming very restricted. It can also lead to mood swings, anger issues, loss of self-esteem and self-worth possibly leading to depression.

At least 1 in 4 people (25%) will be affected in their lifetimes. 

Fight/ Flight Response

Human life survived all these years ago despite being in constant danger from being chased by wild animals and hunting for food. The fight, flight or freeze response was a tool that developed many thousands of years ago and is essential in keeping us safe from danger. It kicks into action when there is a perceived threat sending a message to the brain, which in turn sends a message through the sympathetic nervous system that in turn triggers the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release a hormone called adrenaline whose job it is to prepare the body for action. 

In this modern life our threats have changed from chasing away wild animals to filling in forms and finding a job etc. This survival response remains intact to protect us, however, as running away or fighting is no longer appropriate, we need a different technique to manage these symptoms.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Parasympathetic or relaxation system:

  • Pupils constrict and return to normal
  • Stimulated saliva production
  • Inhibits sweat secretion
  • Breathing returns to normal rate
  • Slows heartbeat
  • Stimulates intestine mobility

Sympathetic or fight, flight or freeze system:

  • Heart beating faster   
  • Breathing faster
  • Twitching muscles     
  • Going to the loo more
  • Feeling sick                
  • Butterflies in stomach
  • Backache                   
  • Tight chest
  • Tension in the neck/ shoulders/ back
  • Dry mouth/ difficulty swallowing
  • Pins and needles in hands and feet
Side effects of anxiety
Tips to help you manage anxiety