New article - when stress leads to anxiety
Our latest article has been published on the Chiswick Herald website. Click here to view or read it below.
Stress that leads to anxiety
Anxiety is a heightened state that is identifiable through a combination of physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms. Anxiety is different to stress in that it is a longer term condition and it is for this very reason that it can be harder to identify and therefore to treat.
It is not uncommon for people to be unaware that they suffer from anxiety until they realise that other people do not feel like them and again, being able to identify anxiety can depend upon its cause. Where there has been a significant life event it can be easier to spot than if someone has been anxious since a very early age. Again it is common for people to not recognise anxiety because the way they experience life has never been any different. For people who have this type of anxiety it can be helpful to think about a persons early years and any childhood traumas.
And of course anxiety is linked to a wide range of other unpleasant experiences such as panic attacks, agoraphobia, other phobia’s, obsessive compulsive disorder etc. Long term anxiety may also result in clinical depression or other mental health conditions - so once recognised it is really important to start developing ways to manage and hopefully recover from anxiety.
Neuroscience is starting to help us understand the impact of anxiety on how the brain functions and to confirm long held views about its nature. It is now being recognised that heightened anxiety can come from the part of the brain called the amygdala. From an evolutionary perspective this area of the brain is tasked with warning us of potential threats and we are starting to understand that whilst this is a very sensitive and fast acting system it is not particularly accurate. Some theorists are suggesting that it is not particularly suited to modern day life because there is so much external stimuli, this area of the brain is constantly activated. As such this is why activities such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation and others that involve reducing external stimuli are becoming increasingly important.
Returning to anxiety and how to treat it, a common experience is for sufferers to be anxious about being anxious and this is contrary to how anxiety can be alleviated. This cycle which can only result in an escalation of the anxiety must first be broken. We need to adopt a “kindly curiosity” towards the experience of the anxiety so that it’s particular nature can be understood. There is nothing wrong with anxiety, in might helpfully be seen as a gift that alerts us to something we need to address in our lives. However ultimately, life will only improve if we start to recognise that the anxiety is merely an alert to something and it does not mean we need to be frightened, rather it enables us to question whether we need to be frightened and importantly allows us to decide what action, if any, we need to take.
At the primal level the three main psychological responses to an immediate threat are fight, flight and fright and we tend towards adopting a response based not only upon what is most appropriate given the context but what has worked for us in previous situations. For example, the fright response whilst it may have worked for someone who in the past needed to keep very still but it is not going to be helpful if every time you feel anxious you freeze.
What this means is we need to start to think about how the information being given to us by our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations may require us to apply a degree of consideration and reflection to enable us to understand what is going on and as a result take an active role in how we respond. In other words, unless there is an obviously apparent immediate threat then although we may feel impelled to adopt an automatic response what we need to work towards is pausing and taking time to think through how immediate the threat may be and develop an appropriate response.