Recognising Anxiety Symptoms
Imagine you are on your way to a job interview. It’s your dream job and you have given yourself plenty of time to get there. You turn out of your street and traffic is immediately at a standstill. It takes 12 minutes to travel 3 blocks and you realise you are going to be late.
Your stomach drops, you start breathing faster and your face flushes. You start picturing how angry your interviewers will be as they toss your application in the bin. You think you will never get ahead in life and it’s just your bloody luck. Your partner calmly suggests that you could call and see about postponing. You snap at them, saying something you instantly regret because you know they are just trying to help.
You might say that this response is proportionate to the magnitude of the situation. Uncontrollable worry about a negative and likely future event. But what if you often feel like that, even when there is nothing likely to go wrong?
That’s what anxiety feels like. Excessive worry about terrible things happening. An awful and sometimes free-floating feeling of dread or apprehension accompanied by worries about the worst possible outcomes that feels likely. Many people with an anxiety disorder even have a logical awareness that “I’m being irrational” however the feelings are so strong that this logic is overruled.
Anxiety is normal and natural. It’s an instinctive drive that helps us to survive in our evolutionary environment. Anxiety is the emotion we experience when the outcome is uncertain and it helps us to identify and problem solve risks in our environment. The further away from the cave, the more uncertain the outcome and the more anxious one is supposed to feel. A jumpy caveman is quick to respond to signs of sabre tooth tigers and therefor survive.
Anxiety in and of itself is not necessarily bad. Like stress, anxiety can help us to be motivated to take action. Unfortunately, a natural reaction to anxiety is avoidance. Physical, mental or emotional strategies to reduce or eliminate the anxiety. For example, over the course of one weekend last year I needed to complete three uni assignments as well as develop two workplace training packages (about 10 hours work each). I looked at all the work ahead of me and went ahead and took a nap. Avoidance is often an immediate solution (anxiety is instantly reduced) however it’s impact is short term and often the problem is a little worse once the effect wears off.
Everyone feels anxious at times however if you feel anxious on most days and have done so for at least 6 months, you might benefit from some new ways of thinking or behaving to reduce that anxiety. Particularly if your sleep is disrupted, the anxiety symptoms impact on your performance at work, or relationships with others. Ask yourself “what am I not doing because I feel anxious”? And speak to your GP about a referral to a psychologist if feeling anxious is stopping you from feeling happy or healthy.
In the meantime there are some practical strategies that may assist.
- Exercise. Exercise is the quickest and easiest way to improve mood and alleviate anxiety symptoms. Research indicates that this impact can be seen in as little as 2 weeks with three sessions per week. My clients report that high intensity, short duration exercise like tabata training is easier to stick to and has a bigger impact than longer cardio sessions (like 60 minutes on the cross trainer, which personally sounds like a terrible proposition to me). Ultimately, whatever exercise you can do regularly is the best.
- Diet. A diet high in processed foods is related to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Conversely diets full of fresh food are related to better mood.
- Mindfulness. Think of mindfulness as the art of paying attention to what you choose, not to what the anxious mind is saying to you. Buddhists call the anxious mind the Monkey Mind, that constant chatter of doom and gloom. They say, “hear the monkey, but don’t listen to him”. This is remarkably similar to advice my brother gave me once about how to deal with our father. It was sage counsel for tolerating conversations with Dad and its excellent for managing the impact of anxious thoughts. Learn how to hear the monkey mind and not buy in to its drama through mindfulness. Learn more about mindfulness at http://parramattapsychologyclinic.com.au/news-resources/mindfulness-resources/
If you would like to learn more about how to manage anxiety, contact our friendly staff at the Parramatta Psychology Clinic on (02) 9687 9776 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.