Anxiety is a persistent and excessive fear or worry that goes beyond normal feelings of nervousness and typically causes reactions out of proportion to the circumstances.
Common symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, muscle tension, difficulty in breathing, tightness across the chest, needing to use the toilet more often, feeling sick, headaches, hot flushes or increased sweating, heart palpitations, feeling on edge and alert to everything, feeling like you’re going mad or might lose control, or feeling like you want to run away to escape from the situation.
Anxiety disorders can impact your daily functioning and interfere with job performance, study, and relationships but are treatable conditions.
Here are eight interesting facts about anxiety that you might not know…
Anxiety is THE most common type of mental illness
Anxiety affects over 8 million people across the UK1 and women are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men are.
This is thought partly to be because a woman’s fight or flight response is more easily activated and stays activated longer than a man’s, partly due to progesterone and oestrogen levels.
There are different types of anxiety disorders
When you hear the word anxiety most people think of generalised anxiety, but anxiety can actually show up in many ways:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder – feeling anxious, worried or tense most of the time, even when there isn’t a trigger for it.
Social Anxiety Disorder – excessive self-consciousness or an overwhelming fear or dread of everyday social situations.
Separation Anxiety – recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones. A regular part of development for children between the age of six months to three years, but can also be experienced by adults.
Panic Disorder – having repeated attacks of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness, often for no apparent reason.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – severe anxiety problems similar to those of Panic Disorder after experiencing a very stressful or frightening event such as a serious accident, natural disaster, terror attack, assault, abuse, loss, difficult childbirth, or being a victim of crime.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – having recurring thoughts (known as obsessions) and performing certain routines or behaviours (known as compulsions) to relieve the anxiety the thoughts cause.
Phobias – an overwhelming fear of a specific object, place, or situation, from spiders and snakes to balloons and small spaces.
Anxiety can be painful
Anxiety has a strong physical basis and affects the body as well as the mind.
An article from Hey Sigmund explains that every physical symptom is a direct result of the body’s fight-or-flight response.
When the brain senses a threat (real or imagined – it doesn’t care) it will surge the body with a cocktail of neurochemicals to provide the physical resources to fight for life or run for it.
Painful physical symptoms can include chest tightening, headaches, nausea, muscle tension, heart palpitations and tummy trouble such as pain, flatulence or diarrhoea.
It’s different for everyone but the physical response is just as real as the emotional one.
Anxiety can affect your sense of smell
People who experience anxiety may be more likely to view natural smells as bad smells, according to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
When processing smells, the olfactory system is activated. However, in people with high anxiety levels, the emotional system can become intertwined with the olfactory system, which can slightly alter our perception of smells. Who knew?!
Anxiety can be mistaken for a heart attack
With chronic over-worrying, breathlessness or hyperventilation, a tightening across the chest, heart palpitations and excess sweating it’s common for people having a panic attack to mistake it for a heart attack.
As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing gets faster. Your body also releases hormones such as adrenaline which cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.
A panic attack can literally make you feel like you’re about to collapse and die but it’s usually harmless and slow deep breathing can help. That said, if you suspect a heart attack, call for help. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Anxiety has many causes
There isn’t just one cause behind anxiety, many different factors can make anxiety disorders more likely to happen.
These include genetics, living with chronic pain or long-term health conditions, traumatic events such as childhood abuse or domestic violence, or drug or alcohol misuse. Many of which have been covered here on the blog.
Your life circumstances can also trigger anxiety, for example, money or housing problems, unemployment or work stress, loneliness, difficult family or personal relationships, or even poor eating habits and lifestyle choices.
Anxiety can be passed on to children
Anxious parents are more likely to inadvertently feed anxiety in children by being slower to allow independence or by supporting the avoidance of situations that might cause them anxiety. This is completely understandable and usually driven by loving intentions to keep everyone safe.
Have you ever said “be careful” as your child leaves the house?
A lot of people do, but this message reinforces a subconscious belief that the world isn’t safe which can lead to anxiety.
In her best-selling book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway, author Susan Jeffers encourages us to drop this saying and try something more positive. Consider saying “have fun!” It implies that you have confidence in them and want them to have a good time.
Anxiety can be treated
Like many mental health problems, the feelings and symptoms associated with anxiety can be significantly improved with talking therapies like counselling.
If you would like to explore how your anxiety is affecting you, discover tools and healthy coping strategies and explore what might be behind your anxiety I can help. As a trained and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, I can guide you to work through your anxiety in a safe and comfortable space and at your own pace.
You deserve to live a fulfilling life without constant worry or being on high alert, and it’s absolutely possible.
If you’d like to enquire about counselling sessions in Suffolk, or online, please do get in touch with me.