Anxiety ! What makes us anxious?

Smita Rajput Kamble considers anxiety as a symptom which is trying to tell us something….

Counselling directory recorded 51,714 searches for the word ‘anxiety’ in August. The word always features as the most searched one and any healthcare practitioner will agree this is true. Anxiety is a debilitating symptom but like all symptoms, it informs us. It tells us that something is feeling out of control and/or feeling unsafe. It feels unpleasant and puts brakes on things we would like to do or think about.  The body, mind and heart feel at odds with each other. You can ask yourself three questions:

1.Why am I feeling anxious today? Why do I feel anxious when this or that happens? Just these simple questions can lead to some form of self reflection, a key ‘skill’ in overcoming overwhelming feelings. Starting a dialogue with oneself is one of life’s great achievements. 

2. Is it affecting my body-stomach, head…?

3. Is it affecting my relationships? 

Normal anxiety is inevitable in all our lives, and trying to understand yourself in your own time is a good habit to cultivate. However, too much anxiety begins to cramp your lifestyle. You may find yourself taking lesser risks and avoiding anxiety provoking situations. Some of it is good as it shows a certain sobering self awareness-of what one can do and not do and what to avoid ! Questions 2 and 3 are warning signs to be considered. 

If you find your circle of life shrinking and the list of things you can do becoming too restricted, seek help. Talking to a professional or engaging in a group activity where there is a considerate facilitator can be helpful.  At times, anxiety can lead to substance misuse -a false bravado further incited by peer acceptance, can take away anxious feelings for some time. Such debilitating habits may threaten your financial security and from thereon, the fall can be damaging and at times, irretrievable.

Restricting your temptations and not gratifying cravings is something of a ‘muscle’ one builds through life. Very helpful against anxiety build up.  Bodies are great things. They adapt to you not having cake just as much as they will adapt to you eating only cake so we do have control ! Those close to the anorexic end of the spectrum have too much control and those on the other end, obesity, have less of it. Try and stay somewhere in the middle. 

Accepting a lack of perfection is a great way to start enjoying life. 

Taking pleasure in simple things which don’t cost money- a walk in the park, a friendly chat with the neighbour down the road, and having time for a little thought to cherish the interactions you have, even if it is  a small one with the corner shop till worker, can add incrementally to one’s ‘muscle’ for reduction of anxiety. 

In other cases, anxiety is provoked in situations like a much awaited job interview; a driving test; meeting a difficult boss; having difficult relations. Anxiety is not all bad, and with a little care it can be understood and limited. On one hand, increased anxiety tells us that something needs doing; you may be anxious before a driving test, but it may help you to prepare more, see it through and, in fact, make you proportionally elated. On the other hand, your increased anxiety may be telling you that something unpleasant is going to happen. It is a signal to say that we are ‘charged up’ with something, because either the situation demands it or we have ‘sussed out’ internally that we cannot cope with it. For example, people in a fragile state (like those who are convalescing or have been bullied) may find it difficult to even shop in the local market. Everything might feel too much because the mind needs to recover just as much as the body. At times, removing yourself from an unbearable and unbeatable situation can be the only, and perhaps the best, resort.

People come for therapy with anxious symptoms and have not thought of the various links to issues which seem apparently random. The job of the therapist is to find these links and facilitate perspective. Maybe in the past one was not ready for an extraordinary situation (illness, bereavement etc), or that it was of such proportions that it bypassed any skills one had to deal with it at the time (for example recession, bereavement, fatal disease, earthquakes). Clients seek therapy for a number of issues that seem sometimes to happen all at once: for eg, father passed away; redundancy; break up of relationship. Such experiences can make you anxious and timid about forthcoming events for a long time. All anticipation of events is experienced with anxiety. 

The death of important figures in one’s life can create grief for years, coupled with anxiety about leaving that internal self isolation. One can never prepare for the loss of someone who you communicated with often and shared your world and took guidance from. One can carry that grievance for a long time, a grievance against life’s treacherous acts of taking away what you cherished the most. 

Facing the prospect of dealing with people (in workplace or socially) who are like the ones who have triggered our anger, despair and helplessness in the past will trigger anxiety in the present. It could be a bullying school mate, a dominant family member, even an abusive person from the past. Not being in touch with such links may create confusion. Sometimes clients say, “I am anxious, but it cannot be just because of …”.  This is a sign of not being in touch with and therefore feeling ‘cut off’ from important but unbearable feelings.  Let your therapist aid you with it.  Friends and family may not be trained for the job.

We are so used to coping with unbearable situations that we don’t realise at times that we are just coping! Last but not least, our health and any negative variance in it, will trigger our deepest anxiety. Google searching helps and hinders this heightened preoccupation with one’s health in the last decade.  It helps to allay silly fears for the healthy and it hinders living life without having to be anxious about silly fears. 

Summing it up, 

1. Grieve well for those who were important but put a boundary and start living again.

2.Complete that driving test but you don’t have to bungy jump (really not very important and certainly not a sample of bravery). 

3.Increase the muscle not to eat cake. The body will adapt. 

4. Walk to the corner shop and chat with someone when you are eft by yourself for too long. Cherish the encounter and walk back home with a smile, don’t go in and buy another bottle.

5. Try not to google too much when you have a headache and don’t self diagnose BPD either. Instead, get some fresh air. 

6. And yes, breathe deeply…it does help.

Read more : What is anxiety and how can I get help ? :https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-54013718

Teens’ anxiety levels dropped during pandemic: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53884401


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