What is anxiety?

What Is Anxiety?

We have all experienced stress.  It is the ‘flight or fight’ response that helped humans negotiate the dangers faced on the plains of Africa many moons ago.  Imagine the scenario – while foraging for berries one day, you look up and meet the hungry stare of a drooling Lioness. It licks its lips as it realises the main course is carrying a medley of berries that will make a fine dessert. With no time to think, your brain takes over and prepares the body for ‘flight or fight’ – pumping up your blood pressure and heart rate, flooding the body with adrenaline and increasing our breathing to feed our muscles with oxygen. At the same time, it shuts down all the functions that do not contribute to your survival in the moment – like your digestive system, prompting you to unceremoniously empty the bowels, making you lighter and more agile.  You run like never before as the Lioness turns to less energetic prey. Once out of harm’s way, you return to your chores as the brain switches out of ‘flight or fight’ mode, allowing you to digest our food, relax and sleep well.

Fortunately, we no longer come face to face with the odd hungry lion, but unfortunately, we face a multitude of other problems that trigger the stress response. The brain does not distinguish between a lion and struggling to keep up your mortgage payments, responding to both with the ‘flight or fight’ response. But unlike our meeting with the Lion, which is over within minutes (one way or the other), mortgage worries can last for weeks, months or even years.  The body can get stuck in that stress response.  Prolonged stress leads to anxiety and prolonged anxiety can lead to poor mental and physical health. Anxiety can be overwhelming, debilitating and distressing.  Amongst other things, it can severely impact our relationships and performance at work, which can lead to further stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, we are never going to be able to avoid stressful situations, so it is important we learn to manage our response to such situations. Below, we give some helpful tips on how to do that.

Childhood sexual abuse occurs when the brain is developing.  It evolves to cope with the unimaginable stress and horror the child suffers.  It becomes a radar for danger and threats. When older, the brain still perceives threats all around and responds accordingly with the threat response.

The perception of threats coupled with flashbacks and traumatic memories can lead to extreme anxiety and emotional distress.

Flashbacks and traumatic memories can be triggered by smells, sounds, images, words, songs, accents, the look of someone, personal space, environments, buildings, physical contact, intimacy, sex, touch, doctors, authority, power, darkness. Associating the trigger with past abuse, the brain goes into ‘flight or fight’ mode.  With severe trauma, the brain doesn’t process memories normally.  When triggered, such memories are recalled, but as the brain has not processed them properly, it cannot distinguish them from reality. The survivor then experiences their abuse as if it were happening there and then – not as a memory, distant or otherwise.

Dealing with the impact of ‘complex’ trauma takes professional help. However, if we learn how to manage stress and anxiety, while working on ‘perceived’ threats, we can make a significant difference to our mental health and wellbeing. With this in mind, please take some time to gp through the information on our Anxiety page.

 

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