FEAR….. Beyond Reasoning: Anxiety – The Stress Response

You are like a Mirror; your inner world reflects your outer world.
Every thought you have makes up a fragment of the world you see.
When you feel anxious or fearful, know that there are no tests, blocks or obstacles in your way, only your own projection of fear in that moment of time.
 

Fear is a natural response to danger and is vital for human survival. It is one of the oldest, most powerful and intense emotions known to mankind.
Thousands of years ago, when man had to hunt for food to survive, he would experience what we now call the ‘fight or flight response’, which is a natural reaction when faced with imminent danger. It was a vital response, without it man would not have been able to protect himself from potential predictors. Today we refer to the flight or fight reaction as anxiety or fear.

Anxiety is defined as ‘ a state of apprehension, uncertainty and fear resulting from anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.’

Statistics show that mixed anxiety and depression is one of the commonest mental health issues presented in the U.K. It affects around sixteen percent of people across the country. This has a massive impact on the economy, as anxiety and stress levels reach breaking point. ‘Time out’ on sick leave is much more common, as life becomes more unmanageable, with people feeling as though they are unable to cope and function with everyday living.

It is estimated that in the current economic climate, sixty seven percent of people in the U.K report that financial problems related to the current recession cause them to worry and feel anxious. Concern over job loss and redundancy is a real threat and strikes fear into the hearts of the working population. People seeking debt relief, personal insolvency, and U.K companies going into liquidation are at an all time high.

Research shows that across the globe, four hundred and fifty million people are experiencing and suffering with mental health problems that are connected to anxiety. Women being twice as likely and more vulnerable than men to experience anxiety related disorders such as; OCD ( Obsessional Compulsive Disorder) or phobias such as: agoraphobia.

Anxiety manifests itself in a diverse range of psychological disorders. A person that suffers with anxiety can experience several different anxiety states, like ‘links in a chain'; one disorder can connect to another, for instance: it is not uncommon for a person suffering with depression and anxiety to be experiencing panic attacks; unmanaged, this could potentially lead to agoraphobia as the sufferer uses avoidance of the situation or stressor that triggered the anxiety in the beginning. Like a ‘camera lens closing down to its tightest focus’, the sufferer’s world becomes more restrictive as the anxiety spirals out of control.

Anxiety is a type of fear and is experienced uniquely by each individual It is linked to our thought processes connected to something that we feel threatened or challenged by. We can feel fear with everyday situations such as: starting a new job, sitting exams or public speaking. It is thought that there can be a connection to anxiety and life transitions such as: parenthood, middle age, the menopause, ageing and retirement. Also, life events like graduating from university and starting a new job, the breakdown of a relationship, divorce, bereavement, illness or financial problems.

Fear is extremely powerful and can ‘grip the mind like a vice'; when we feel anxious or fearful, it can soon spiral out of control. Negative, irrational thoughts racing around at a hundred miles an hour, amplified by feelings of dread and apprehension, suppressing and draining any positive energy, all serve to undermine a person’s confidence, and ability to fully function in a world that demands logic to survive.

Fear is a ‘total body event’, mind and body ‘accelerates’ when fear and anxiety is experienced. Blood flow to the muscles and blood sugar levels increase, the heart beats faster; sweating, dizziness, tenseness, dry mouth, feeling weak, loss of concentration, confusion and feeling disorientated, are all stress reactions.

Anxiety can impact on all levels of a person’s well being; the nervous system is often affected, with stomach and bowels churning and going into ‘overdrive’. Appetite and sleeping patterns can be disrupted. Headaches are also common ground, and are reported to be experienced more by people who are suffering with stress and anxiety. On an emotional level, anxiety can leave a person feeling humiliated, incapable and ashamed that they are overwhelmed, dysfunctional and struggling to manage daily life on an acceptable level.

Thoughout the years there have been many famous people who have inspired others with their quotes relating to fear including: Franklin Roosevelt (American President) who stated ‘ The only thing to be feared is fear itself ‘; Actor and singer, Frank Sinatra stated: ‘fear is the enemy of logic’, and Nelson Mandela stated : ‘The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’.

It is thought that sensitive and creative people are more vulnerable to fall victim to depression, fear and anxiety Famous Dutch artist,Vincent van Gogh and musician Lugwig van Beethoven are to name but a few.

All people manage fears and anxieties differently, some are much more resilient to the challenges that life presents, letting potential difficulties ‘go over their head’, others worry incessantly about the slightest thing. The development of stress related problems can be due to many different elements. Risk factors that may make a person more vulnerable to suffer with stress and anxiety are: personality type, family history, childhood or adult trauma. Learnt behaviour, coping skills, family and social support, also play a part in whether a person may experience and suffer with stress and anxiety.

Fear is irrational and exists only in the mind, it is, in a sense, ‘self imposed’, and of our own making. Do we allow fear to lock us up in an internal prison? Or can we make a choice for ourselves; to experience life, or be restricted by our fear of it.

Range and types of anxiety disorders

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Describes a condition in which a person experiences persistent worry and apprehension, an undercurrent of uneasiness and fear. The sufferer is often focused on negative thought processes, which drains their mental, physical and emotional energy. Sweating, dry mouth, heart palpitations, irritability and difficulty in concentrating are common symptoms of (GAD).

Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder: Both conditions are linked, and can feel equally intense occurring together. Lowness and depression gives rise to worries, anxiety and negative thought processes.

Panic Attack: A high state of anxiety, extreme and frightening, attacks often come ‘out of the blue’, paralysing panic, disabling a person. Avoidance of the stressor, or situation that caused the panic attack is often used as a defence mechanism.
Symptoms of a panic attack can be very sudden and include: trembling, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dry mouth and feeling faint. The sufferer may also suffer with anticipatory anxiety, linked to the fear of experiencing another episode of panic, thus creating a vicious circle.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD Describes a condition where a person experiences negative, obsessional, thought processes; this links to repetitive, compulsive behaviour, such as: washing hands or checking repeatedly that you have locked up or switched something off in the home. OCD can be connected to words, numbers, ideas or beliefs.
Compulsive rituals can impact negatively on the lives of people experiencing OCD, as the condition becomes more restrictive; the sufferer’s life revolves around trying to manage the disorder and the impact it has on them-self, family members and daily functioning.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Describes a condition where acute stress and anxiety is experienced following a traumatic event. Service men and women often experience PTSD on returning from military duty in a war zone.
Symptoms include; intense, intrusive imagery, referred to as ‘flash backs’, recurring vivid, distressing dreams, and difficulty in recalling the traumatic event. People suffering with PTSD may also be anxious, irritable, and suffer with poor concentration, insomnia, and episodes of depression. Avoidance of memory triggers, detachment from ‘self’ and a feeling of ‘numbness’ connected to emotions are all features of PTSD.

Phobias: There are three main categories of phobias: Simple Phobia, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia.

Simple Phobia, describes a condition where a person becomes stressed and anxious connected to specific object such as: a spider or dog.
Each phobia has a specific label such as: Apiphobia ( fear of bees), Haematophobia ( fear of blood ), Arachnophobia ( fear of spiders ), Zoophobia ( fear of animals ), and Ornithophobia ( fear of birds )

Phobic anxiety disorders have similar symptoms to generalised anxiety disorder; the difference is that the sufferer will experience anxiety only in specific circumstances, for instance: if a person has a phobia of flying, they will only get anxious with circumstances that are connected to that specific phobia; the rest of the time they will function on a balanced level, and be free from anxiety.

Social Phobia: A Social phobia is different from a simple specific phobia, in a sense that a person may fear a certain social situation where they have to perform in front of others and circumstances where they may fear being ridiculed or criticised, such as: public speaking. With social phobia a person’s stress levels rise at the thought of getting something wrong and looking stupid in front of others. It creates a cycle of negative thought processes and worry; sufferers tend to use avoidance of challenging situations. The symptoms are similar to (GAD) but blushing and trembling are also common reactions.
People suffering with social phobia can also find it hard to mix and hold a conversation with others. Situations such as: board meetings, dinner parties or any situation that the sufferer feels observed by others. In extreme cases, the fear can hold a person back in their career and personal life.

Agoraphobia: Describes a condition where a person has a fear of open or public places, and situations that seem difficult to escape from. It is a phobia that is complex in a sense that it has many different elements to it.
Agoraphobics feel unsafe and experience anxiety when out of their ‘safety zone'; this is usually home. The severity of this condition can vary, where as some agoraphobics can travel a certain distance and manage daily life; for others, the condition is severe and disabling, their ‘fear of fear’ leaving them housebound.
Agoraphobia can be experienced with or without panic attacks and has been described as a debilitating and soul destroying condition.

Treatment and Therapy

Counselling and Psychotherapy is helpful in the management and recovery of anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy can help a person to explore issues and thought processes connected to the anxiety, the stressors and triggers that cause the negative reaction, and behaviours associated with it. Therapy can help to support on a mental and emotional level, offering a safe space where a person can talk about their fears and the impact that this is having on their life. Counselling / Psychotherapy can offer short or long term work.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): Is one of the leading therapies that is used to help to manage anxiety disorders, and looks at a person’s negative thought processes, irrational beliefs and behaviour. CBT therapists work in a structured way, by challenging the sufferer on a daily basis and exposing them to the stressor, this helps the sufferer to desensitise the fear. CBT is very effective in the battle against anxiety, and with continued use of coping skills, the sufferer can learn to manage their anxiety. CBT is often time limited and therefore cost effective.

Medication: A wide range of medication is used to manage anxiety disorders depending on whether the sufferer is experiencing anxiety on a mild, moderate or severe level. Anti-anxiety drugs are commonly prescribed and can help the sufferer to reduce the distressing mental, emotional and physical symptoms experienced. A GP would be able to prescribe suitable medication for each individual person depending on circumstances and check that the anxiety is not caused by any medical condition such as: a thyroid problem.

Self Help

• Healthy eating is important in the management of stress and anxiety. If you eat well, you will feel better in yourself.

• Reducing alcohol and nicotine intake, alcohol can magnify feelings of stress and anxiety and is a depressant.

• Sleep is vital for a person’s well-being and is often disrupted by anxiety, listening to a relaxation CD before you go to sleep may be helpful.

• Meditation, yoga and aromatherapy are calming and helpful to have in your ‘Toolbox’, to use long term in the management of stress and anxiety.

• Controlled breathing serves as an ‘anchor’, and practised regularly, can help a person to ground themselves; it can help to ‘hold’ a person until the anxiety passes. Finding a quiet place, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and concentrating on the rhythm of the breath; practising this for just a few minutes each day can help to control and relieve anxious thoughts and feelings.

• Challenge yourself; think positively. The other side of every fear you experience is ‘freedom'; take tiny steps, so that you are not overwhelmed. Visualise building blocks; every time you challenge the fear, you are building your confidence and moving forward. The goal is to experience it, instead of avoiding it.

• Remember challenge builds confidence and courage, fear builds doubt and negativity.

Local Help

If you would like to meet with a counsellor, psychotherapist or CBT therapist in leicester please contact the RHCP practice for further details.  The RHCP team are all highly qualified and expereinced therapists based at the leicester city centre practice.

 

 

Links

www.mind.org.uk

Information and advice for people experiencing mental health problems.

www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Anxiety UK helpline 0844 4775774 Mon / Fri 9.30 / 5.30

Anxiety Care Helpline 020 8478 3400
Mon and Wed 9.45 / 3.45

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