"The only real voyage of discovery....consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes' (O'Brien,1948)
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal response to situations that cause us some unease. Anxiety is how our body responds to danger, in an attempt to keep us safe and protect us. Anxiety is an emotion that all humans have.
For example: A car comes around the corner at high speed. Your brain would detect that you are in danger and start to make preparations to your body, in attempt to protect you and help you to move out of the way quickly, should you need to. This is called ‘fight or flight’.
What happens during the fight or flight response?
Your brain sends a message to your body that there is danger. Your body then starts to respond to this message by releasing adrenalin to help you run faster, it releases sugar into the blood to give you extra strength to fight, the layer surrounding your muscles (Fascia) tightens to protect them from injury so you can keep fighting, you jaw tightens to stop it being damaged so you can still eat, your digestive systems shuts off so you don’t have to worry about being hungry during the threatening situation and your body will turn the cool down system on to stop you from overheating.
When all this is happening you will notice physical symptoms in our body, some of these may be a faster heartbeat, shaking, tense muscles, feeling nauseous and an urge to go to the toilet.
All this is completely normal and something we would be grateful for if we are ever in a dangerous situation, as it will improve your chances of escaping the danger and in the example given above, would help you to jump out of the way of the car without even having to think about it.
BUT… some people get these symptoms when they are not in a dangerous situation, so what causes this to happen?
The human brain, as amazing at it is, isn’t able to recognise the difference between what is real and what isn’t, so it can get confused by a person perceiving something to be a threat to them. For example: A person could be in work, about to deliver a presentation. They may be predicting that they will forget their words and everyone might laugh at them. This is a very uncomfortable thought and the brain detects that you feel threatened and wants to protect you from this, but isn’t aware it’s a ‘false alarm’. As a result the message is sent to the body to start the ‘fight or flight’ process.
A metaphor to help explain this, is to think about the smoke alarms in our homes. They are there to help us to survive and warn us of a fire so that we can escape. But what happens when we burn our toast?...the alarm still goes off of course!. This is because the smoke detector doesn’t know the difference between burnt toast, or a real fire. Our brain is exactly the same, so it sets the alarm of to help us. The burnt toast is our perception and thoughts about things.
We will learn in later modules how we can break this cycle.