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 dog growls at you and you perceive the growl to be threatening. Your brain would detect that you are in potential danger and start to prepare you to protect yourself from the dog, should you need to (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 to prepare you for whatever is to come to help you to survive. Some of the things that happen to help you to understand this - Adrenalin is released to give you more strength, sugar is released into the blood to give you extra energy, the layer surrounding your muscles (Fascia) tightens to protect them from injury, you jaw may tighten to stop it being damaged, 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 real dangerous situation, as it will improve your chances of escaping the danger. These are just some examples, but the important thing to remember is that although these may feel frightening, your body is trying to help you and is all completely normal.
THE CONFUSED BRAIN… some people get these symptoms when they are not being growled at by a dog, or in any dangerous situation, so what causes this to happen? The human brain, as amazing at it is, isn’t able to recognise the difference between real danger and a person perceiving a future event as 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 is a ‘false ‘alarm. As a result the message is sent to the body to start the fight or flight process.
How can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) help?
There is very strong evidence that our thoughts control how we feel and our feelings determine how we behave.
Example: Your partner arrives really late home from work:
CBT can be effective in the treatment of anxiety, because it is the thoughts we have that trigger the ‘false alarm’. CBT helps you to identify unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviours and provides education and interventions to help you to manage these.