Anxiety can range from your mind being just a little too racy and difficult to slow down to rocking in the corner feeling like chicken little with the sky falling. It can have significant impacts on our life affecting our sleep, mood, appetite, relationships and our ability to function.
Why do we get anxiety?
Anxiety can come as a response to a hugely traumatic singular event such as the death of a loved one, a car accident, experiencing physical violence, shock or a slow low-grade build-up of multiple events and stresses.
In the case of a singular event it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that one minute you were fine and then the next you aren’t. We cannot under-estimate the effect of trauma be it recent, long standing or whether it is something from our childhood. Trauma often breaks the false perspective we may have of feeling safe and in control.
The realisation that something bad can happen at any minute can create hyper-vigilance, which is a way of trying to regain control. In this case we look forward to pre-empt potential problems, which while useful, can create problems. Excessive forward projection means we are almost constantly living in a state of something going wrong not the reality of what is going on.
The other cause of anxiety is a graduated wearing down of the nervous system with a combination of stresses such as:
- Work pressure
- Relationship issues
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
- Family pressures
- Chronic pain
- Financial stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- High caffeine intake
- Substance abuse
What are the signs of anxiety?
Sometimes people may be struggling with anxiety and not actually realise it, so here are some symptoms that can be associated with but not exclusive to anxiety:
- Palpitations (a noticing of your heart beat not associated with physical effort)
- Excessive sweating
- Difficulty sitting still or doing nothing
- Sense of panic
- Excessive muscle tension
- Jaw clenching
- Racing mind/ thoughts
- Difficulty with focus
- Foggy mind
- Digestive problems
What can you do?
The first step is realising that there is an issue so if you have managed to do that then well done. If not is your life overwhelming you? Yes? Then this is anxiety and perhaps it’s time to take some action to help you live a different and happier existence.
The important thing to remember is that anxiety takes time to reduce and nothing is going to solve this quickly so a long term sustainable approach is necessary.
Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool in the battle to overcome anxiety and whilst most people say to me ‘I’m not very good at meditation’ or ‘I can’t meditate’ everyone can. The problem is the expectation of achieving a completely zen state after your first minute is completely unreasonable and just like any activity that you haven’t done before or have not done much of, expecting to be a master straight away just isn’t reasonable.
Meditation takes time and repeated effort so we recommend a minimum of 10 minutes first thing when you wake up in the morning every day. If you can manage more then add the same approach to the first thing you do when you finish work at the end of the day. A great resource to help is the free Insight Timer app and you can also read more about the benefits of meditation here.
This is another underestimated tool in the battle against anxiety as the food we eat has a direct impact on our digestive system and how well it functions. Signs of poor digestion such as constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, reflux or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can effectively exacerbate anxiety. How? The digestive system produces 95% of your serotonin and 75% of your dopamine, which are your bodies feel good neurotransmitters so low levels of these on their own can lead to anxiety and depression. Add in some of the life pressures we all experience and you have a perfect mental health storm.
By engaging in physical activity a change occurs in what we are focusing on and our sense of self, which Increasing blood flow, heart function and increases the release of our happy neurotransmitters including serotonin, GABA, BDNF and endocanibinoids.
This can be as simple as too many coffees in a day and as severe as drug addiction. Any substance that offers an altered state has consequences on your physical and mental health and the more you consume these the greater the impact.
Adjusting habits and developing new ones will significantly reduce the severity of anxiety. The above suggestions will all have a significant benefit to your mental health but trying to address all of them at once will likely result in the stress of the change outweighing the benefit. Change takes time and focus so it is important to look at a long term and more importantly sustainable approach. Part of what we do at Evolve is help create a workable plan for you to engage in the changes you need so you can achieve the life you want.
Jeff Shearer has been in practice since 1995 and
loves sharing his knowledge on better ways to live.