Your heart’s pounding, you can’t breathe, it’s hard to think and you feel an uncontrollable urge to escape or run away. Other symptoms could include; your stomach in knots, tension throughout your whole body and feelings that are overwhelming. Are you finding it difficult to cope with everyday situations or uncertainties of the future? Is it hard for you to control your body’s reactions when faced with these situations? These emotions are often identified as fear, anxiety, or stress.
Every person on the planet can relate to feeling anxious or stressed at some point in their lives. However, there are people who experience anxiety every day. Does this sound like you? If it does, don’t stress– there’s nothing wrong with you. Stress is your brain’s normal way of responding to impending danger or threats. Whether it is a general fear of the uncertainty of the future or specific fears such as embarrassing yourself in public, the fear you feel is actually your body’s way of protecting you. All people experience similar types of emotions when they are under threat or danger.
But what can you do about it? Sometimes, it’s hard for people (who’ve never felt such crippling anxiety) to understand what you’re going through. Your friends and loved ones might be telling you to simply relax or avoid the fearful emotions you’re experiencing. While they may have good intentions at heart, their advice doesn’t help and can further aggravate your mood.
What Causes Anxiety?
People get afraid of anxious sensations in their body (like your heart beating faster). They are also often afraid of the future. Think about waiting for those test results or waiting for the employer to get back to you after a job interview. How did you feel? It’s often thoughts about uncertainty and the future that drive our anxiety.
Acknowledging your anxiety and understanding what it is about the situation that causes you to feel anxious may help. Sometimes your brain senses danger even when other people around you don’t seem to feel the same way you do. And that’s okay. Not everyone processes external stimuli the same way. One person may feel like they’re in danger while another person standing next to them may feel perfectly fine. Knowing that everyone’s different can help you cope with your anxiety. The thing is sometimes our brains do things unconsciously. And sometimes this stuff may be based on past experiences that told us something was dangerous. Our brains’ uncanny ability to function unconsciously can be helpful in some circumstances. Take breathing for example: if you had to concentrate on that, you would never get anything else done! It’s the same when it comes to danger. Brains can unconsciously sense danger. Experiences that seemed to be dangerous in the past stick with us and our brains will tend to keep alerting us when faced with similar situations.
If our brain spots danger, it automatically equips our body to deal with the threat. It does this by releasing hormones into our system. These hormones increase our heart rate, our breathing gets faster and more shallow, and we sweat more. This is what anxiety feels like. Once we get away from the threat or danger, the feeling decreases. But we also lose the chance to find out if what our brain recognized as dangerous was truly dangerous. I often hear people say, “But it just happens to me, no particular situation causes it.” This is a common thought. But here is the thing: remember our brains look out for danger and send signals of anxiety subconsciously. However, if there are truly no outside triggers for the anxiety, we should look inside us.
How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Can Help
Okay, so you’ve learned about the causes of anxiety and made sense of what causes these unwanted feelings. Now what? One form of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been known to help reduce anxiety.
CBT shows us that humans need to learn through doing. Humans that are anxious about a threat when no threat exists may benefit from learning why everyone else isn’t scared when they are. What CBT has demonstrated is that if humans can stay with the feeling of anxiousness for long enough and the thing that they fear does not occur, then their brains learn something new. What the brain learns is that the thing it thought was dangerous actually wasn’t. We have probably all experienced something like it. Feeling anxious about learning to drive, going to a new job, meeting a first date. We all know the anxious anticipation coupled with the thoughts, “Will I crash, make a fool of myself, get dumped?” And for anyone who has managed to stay in the moment, they probably noticed their anxiety reduced. If they experience the same situation often enough, they might notice their anxiety reduces over time as more time passes. The brain is good at learning through many different ways such as visually, orally, aurally, or physically. But when it comes to conquering fear, the best way is to experience it physically.
“Where does that leave me”? I hear you say. I don’t want to feel this way and you are telling me the only way to conquer this feeling is to face it. Well, the saying, “The only way to conquer your fears is to face it” carries some truth. People who go into situations they fear and stay there for long enough, start to notice that their fears do not materialise. This can be a very empowering and esteem building experience. Of course, it’s also a difficult thing to do. More difficult for some and easier for others. Some people might need help while others might be able to deal with it alone. You’re not alone if you feel like you can’t handle it on your own.
Additional Resources for Anxiety Relief
Here are some places you can get some help on your own if you’d like to try:
- These self-help booklets have some helpful advice for different problems. The booklets also have references for more detailed self-help books.
- Go to your family doctor and ask him/her about Bounceback a CBT program that is free of charge.
- Take a look at a series of books entitled Overcoming. For example: Overcoming Panic Attacks. These evidence-based self-help books are available at Amazon usually for less than $20.
Alternately, if you’d like some help figuring this anxiety thing out – we’re here to help. I specialize in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I’d love to do what I can to help you beat this brain frenzy we call anxiety. We also have other counsellors at Alongside You. As well, we offer alternative methods for coping through yoga and creative arts that are a great help to people. Even if you just want to chat about taking the first step, give us a call. It’s what we’re here for.