What are the symptoms of Anxiety?
Essentially anxiety is an anticipatory form of fear; i.e. it invokes the fear or stress response (fight or flight)! Therefore, many of the symptoms of anxiety are the same as those of intense fear or chronic stress. In fact, it is very unusual for someone with severe anxiety, not to be exposed to a fair amount of stressors as well. Stress (distress) can be defined as the body, brain and mind's response to stressors. These stressors can be physical, emotional, psychological and environmental!
I say that Anxiety is an anticipatory form of fear because it is an awareness of what could, would or should happen; rather than what is actually happening. If you walk down a dark street and fear being attacked; anxiety is the response. If you walk down the same street and are attacked; fear is the likely response. However, whether it is fear or anxiety, the body's response is pretty much the same! Practically speaking, life is far too short to be overly concerned about what might, could or even should happen, even more so when it is obviously unlikely to happen. For example, the fear of flying is perhaps the most illogical of all fears, mostly because it is the safest form of travel; yet the most universally feared! And perhaps the most ironic of statements I have heard in recent years is that of a motorcyclist who wouldn't travel by plane because it is so unsafe!
So, in preparation for a course in Anxiety Management, it makes sense to be aware of its symptoms and you might say "obviously!." But given the number of people I see with anxiety, I know that it is anything but obvious!
Below are some Anxiety symptoms?
Pounding heart (palpitations)
Fuzzy head or giddy feelings
hot or cold flushes
Tingling feelings in hands and feet
Make bad decisions
Make more mistakes or errors
Poor memory or forgetfulness
Becoming insular or withdrawn
Prone to anger outbursts
Feeling negative about life in general
Prone to minor ailments, e.g. colds, flu etc.
Exaggerated startle response
Generally feeling unwell or
Having a feeling of foreboding
These are a few of the many and varied symptoms of anxiety. Although anxiety can be defined as an awareness of certain physical feelings, thoughts are almost always involved in the process. The chain of events that lead to anxiety, which is the neural activation of the fear response, is almost identical for all humans. Yet, without doubt, the way people describe the experience of anxiety can be very different.
The reason thoughts are involved is a consequence of the feelings we experience are the result of the type and intensity of stress hormones and neurotransmitters surging through our body. Whilst we are aware of the feeling, we have no understanding of the neural processing taking place. To make sense of it we use our thought processes. If we can rationalise what has happened we can often return to normal quite quickly. For example, we hear a loud bang, it sounds like a gunshot, we become fearful, rush to the window and see an old car, the conclusion, it probably backfired!
Because most of our experience of life is outside of awareness (we'd be emotionally overwhelmed if we were consciously aware of everything our brain was processing), we can become anxious seemingly without cause. However, there will always be a reason and anxiety is the consequence of the neural interpretation of any sensory experience. At any point of the day our senses are processing millions of pieces of information, most of which is relatively neutral, however, as soon as any sensory experience stimulates the amygdala ( a small structure in each brain hemisphere), we become emotionally aroused; the greater the arousal, the greater the emotion.
Throughout our lifetime we have countless such experiences and invariably involve our thought processes to interpret these experiences, mostly subconsciously, and thus the link between thought and emotion is established. The relationship between thought and emotion varies from person to person and it has been my experience, with very anxious clients, that the level of negativity in their thinking and communication (verbal and non-verbal) has a strong correlation to the development and intensity of their anxiety; thus making it a disorder.
Because the brain cannot tell the difference between a real or an imagined event (think about a bad dream you have had), it is easier to understand the mechanism of anxiety and why I said it is an anticipatory form of fear. Essentially you could define the difference between fear and anxiety as one of time! Fear is the real-time response to what is actually happening and anxiety is what you anticipate will or could happen.
Many of the things we become anxious about were encoded in our brain, specifically the amygdala, as we were developing. When a situation can relate what we feel, with what is happening, the experience becomes contextualised. For example, your mother, while pregnant with you, is in a lift that goes very fast, creating that momentary feeling of weightlessness, which makes her feel frightened for a moment, your amygdala, encodes fear and weightlessness; but no context. twenty years later, you are on a flight and experience severe turbulence - weightlessness - then fear; the outcome a fear of flying. This can happen even if you are a seasoned flyer and have flown many times before. The computations of a fear type experience for each of us is almost limitless. However, most people go through life with a normal experience of anxiety, after all, it is a life protecting part of being human; its purpose is to keep us safe.
I define stress as the body's reaction to environmental and psychological stressors. Stressors can be physical, e.g. excessive heat, cold, noise, crowds or even isolation etc. Or psychological, e.g. negative thought or language patterns, emotional difficulty, bad relationships, the death of a loved one, imbalanced brain chemicals etc.
If you have any specific questions, not covered by this article, please feel free to contact me.
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