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Anxiety Uncovered – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment (plus some science)

Woman with blurred hair over her face.

This week we’re looking at anxiety – a perfectly natural and important part of our life. Anxiety is a basic reaction to a fearful situation, it floods our muscles with glucose and enhances our focus. The idea is: you’re about to be attacked by a sabre-tooth tiger and your body is preparing itself for fight or flight.

So, anxiety isn’t a bad guy, but as with most things in life; too much of something is never good. Excessive anxiety can expose your body to prolonged periods of chemical imbalance, causing psychological issues such as an inability to cope with stress. It can stifle learning and make decision-making a nightmare, it can also stop you from living a normal and healthy life.

The difference between anxiety and stress

Knowing whether you have chronic anxiety can be tricky and it’s often mistaken for stress, but they are two very different issues…

Anxiety is a psychological state involving apprehension, distress, or uneasiness in response to fear or a threat.

Stress is the pressure or strain experienced when one thing exerts force on another, such as a work deadline – this can have physical and mental implications.

Anxiety plays a very useful role in protecting us from threats. But when those threats are perceived (irrational) or the anxiety is ongoing (chronic) it can be extremely harmful if not treated. The same can be said for depression and stress, both are perfectly natural but can become unhealthy if felt for more than a couple of weeks.

Anxiety is the most common form of mental issue in the UK, affecting 1 in 20 adults

If you think you may have unhealthy or chronic anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common form of mental issue in the UK, affecting 1 in 20 adults according to the NHS. Sufferers often struggle to make a distinction between real fear and irrational fear, they find anxiety difficult to control and their ability stay calm can be poor.

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety can be both psychological and physiological, providing an important opportunity for you to recognise that you may be suffering.

Common physical symptoms include:

Psychological symptoms of anxiety can take the form of thoughts and altered perceptions, including:

The science bit – What’s happening in my body when I’m anxious?

When you face a fear or threat, your hypothalamus fires up. This is the part of your brain responsible for keeping your need for basic life-requirements consistent, such as hunger, warmth and sleep.

Your hypothalamus reacts to try to maintain balance and its main weapon is the hormone cortisol. Cortisol temporarily puts systems such as organs and the immune system ‘on hold’ and gives extra energy (glucose) to the body/brain to help manage the situation and deal with the immediate crisis.

When the threat has passed (the sabre-tooth didn’t see you), the body returns to normal and cortisol is either reabsorbed or dispersed. This is where the problem can be for sufferers – if anxiety continues for prolonged periods of time, cortisol overstays it’s welcome and can have a damaging effect, mainly on the storing of memories our emotional responses.

Causes of anxiety

As a Psychotherapist in Cheadle and Manchester, I see a lot of different causes of anxiety and each individual’s circumstances are as unique as their finger print. Anxiety can be the legacy of a distressing incident from your past that you were unable to emotionally deal with at the time, it can be a product of your upbringing; poor diet, drug misuse and even exhaustion.

A common cause of anxiety is the fear of losing control, which can lead to fearing the symptoms of anxiety and a vicious circle where you feel anxious because you dread feeling the symptoms of anxiety.

I have prolonged anxiety, what can I do?

If you believe you are suffering from chronic anxiety then you should seek trusted help and a diagnosis. Visit your GP or a qualified Psychotherapist and discuss your symptoms, we offer anxiety therapy at our centre in Cheadle, Cheshire. In the mean time, there are steps you can take to help reduce your anxiety levels:

Most of these are good practice anyway, whether you suffer from prolonged anxiety or not and should leave you feeling healthier, more balanced and better placed to face your fears.

Psychotherapy and counselling for anxiety

Psychotherapy is most widely recommended treatment for anxiety and comes in different forms, allowing your Psychotherapist to tailor your treatment to your personal situation and needs. Group therapy, counselling, applied relaxation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are all available, with the aim of helping you to regain control, face your fears and banish anxiety from your life.

If you think you may suffer from anxiety and want to discuss any symptoms, you can talk to your GP or to a member of our team. They will be able to assess you on your individual symptoms in complete confidence and offer expert psychotherapy. Simply call the Affinity Centre on 0161 282 0259for a chat about how we can help you.

And remember: At the onset of anxiety, try telling yourself that you’ve been here before and it will pass – keep calm and you’ll get through it.