All too often, I meet people who have no idea that what they are experiencing in life is not just "stress," but anxiety, often chronic anxiety. I believe that some of the reasons people do not recognize they are suffering from chronic anxiety are because they have "been this way all their lives," and because we live in a very stressful world defined by constant busyness, fears, chaos and high expectations. And, we live in a culture of numbing through food, drugs, computers, alcohol, etc. where we learn to "dampen," those feelings rather than to "define," them.
The feeling of anxiety has been described with many different words which include: worry, fear, edginess, panic, jumpiness, butterflies, jitters, shakes, freaking out, agitation and angst...just to name a few! And while everyone experiences some anxiety, there are many of us who feel it often; and it can be deep, overwhelming and intense, and make us feel out of control.
But why do some people struggle with anxiety more than others?
Genetics, brain chemistry, how our families handle anxiety or stress, things that happen in our lives, our personality or our "natural born temperament," can impact how we deal with anxiety and how much it affects our lives. Many people feel powerless to stop the worry, the re-thinking things over in their heads a million times, insomnia, panic or chaos that constant anxiety can create.
The feeling of being powerless to control anxiety can be very real since our bodies respond to anxious thoughts by emitting stress hormones. These stress hormones are biologically built-in mechanisms from prehistoric times when we needed to survive daily threats. Should we fight or flee? Or maybe just freeze?
The problem with experiencing frequent anxiety is that our bodies are constantly experiencing this rush of hormones which raise our blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure and pulse, as well as slow our digestion, dilate our pupils and cause us to breathe shallowly. To stay healthy, we need to find ways to reduce this experience and to avoid or disperse those chemicals in our bodies because they can increase our risk of :
Memory and concentration impairment
So, what can we do about it? It may sound like a cliche, but the first thing we have to do is embrace and acknowledge that we are struggling with anxiety. And there are many forms of anxiety which range from constant ruminating or constant worry, to feeling an angst when we are in a social environment, or to feeling extreme panic around a range of different life events or experiences and expectations. A great beginning to understanding your anxiety is to first become clear about what makes you anxious and how it shows up in your life, relationships and body.
1) Make a list of all your daily challenges and write them in order from most to least anxiety provoking. 2) Describe the physical symptoms and how they show up in your body when your feel "worried, stressed, full of angst, anxious," etc. It is incredibly helpful to start with becoming very clear about what makes you anxious and how you can learn to identify it in your body and life.
My next blog will address more about how to handle your anxiety now that you know when and how it shows up in your life. But to start with, things like high cardio-driven exercise that makes you sweat, yoga, guided imagery, journaling and meditation are great ways to begin gaining control of your anxiety and living your best and most beautiful life....
Dr. Kim Sage