What you should know about Anxiety




Anxiety is a negative mood state characterized by bodily symptoms of physical
tension and by apprehension about the future. In humans it can be a subjective
sense of unease, a set of behaviours (looking worried and anxious or fidgeting), or a
physiological response originating in the brain and reflected in elevated heart rate
and muscle tension.


Anxiety is not pleasant, so why do we seem programmed to experience it almost
every time we do something important? Surprisingly, anxiety is good for us, at least
in moderate amounts. Psychologists have known for over a century that we perform
better when we are a little anxious. You would not have done so well on that test the
other day if you had had no anxiety. You were a little more charming and lively on
that date last weekend because you were a little anxious. And you will be better
prepared for that upcoming job interview if you are anxious. In short, social, physical,
and intellectual performances are driven and enhanced by anxiety. Without it, few of
us would get much done.


But what happens when you have too much anxiety? You might actually fail the
exam because you can’t concentrate on the questions. All you can think about when
you’re too anxious is how terrible it will be if you fail. You might blow the interview for
the same reason. On that date with a new person, you might spend the evening
perspiring profusely, with a sick feeling in your stomach, unable to think of even one
reasonably interesting thing to say. Too much of a good thing can be harmful, and
few sensations are more harmful than severe anxiety that is out of control.As human
beings, we may be designed to be on high alert for danger, but with information
coming at us from all directions and at high speeds, anxiety is sharply rising, and this
adaptation is starting to impair us. Many of us can’t seem to stop our minds from
racing forward to fixate over what could go wrong or backward into rumination over
what has gone wrong.



1. Anxiety is often about the future.

A lot of our anxiety is driven by anticipation. Life feeds us endless amounts of
uncertainty that can fuel our stress and anxiety. And while our worries about what’s
to come may feel like arrows flying at us, our anxiety can also strangely feel to us
like a form of armour. We’re not really sure we can be without it. It can seem like it’s
just a part of us. We may even think our anxiety is necessary, because, on a certain
level, we believe that if we anticipate or imagine what we fear, we can somehow
have more control over the situation. When we get too far ahead of ourselves, we
drive ourselves crazy. We aren’t living in the moment or experiencing our actual
present circumstances.


2. Anxiety can source from the past.

We all replay events in our heads that can cause us to feel stressed or regretful, but
some of us get stuck on a cycle of repeat that doesn’t allow us to move on. This
happens in many ways, not just through explicit memories of actual events but
through implicit memories, things that we don’t necessarily remember consciously
but that have impacted our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Many present situations can trigger tensions from our past. Our anxiety can be
elevated by experiences that remind us of old ways we felt or “critical inner voices”
we have about ourselves or our circumstances. This is one of the main reasons
that making sense of our past can be a powerful tool to understand and overcome
anxiety in the present. It may seem like our stress about work or our worries about
our relationship are entirely based on current conditions, but the ways we
experience, react, feel, and torture ourselves in these scenarios are often reflections
of old, unresolved feelings that have been stirred.


3. Anxiety can be fuelled by the critical inner voice.

A lot of the noise that pushes us into the past and future comes from our critical inner
voice, a self-destructive thought process that criticizes, undermines, and poorly
advises us based on unhealthy, destructive messaging we picked up early in life.
This critical inner voice can be powerful fuel for anxiety. Our anxiety-inducing inner
critic can affect us at work, relationships, parenting and social situations. The
commentary of our inner critic makes whatever is going on in our life much worse
and more filled with anxiety. The good news is that when we recognize and
challenge our critical inner voice, we can feel much stronger in ourselves, more
grounded in reality, and a lot less anxious.


4. Anxiety can be heightened by social media.

One element of modern life that can trigger anxiety and our critical inner voice is
social media. Before the rise of technology, humans, living tribally, were designed to
be aware of and care about the well-being of about 50-60 people. Nowadays, we
have so many connections and so much input about one another, and about the
world at large. Of course, being informed is crucial and has many essential benefits.
However, there is a lot of information coming at us that can multiply our worries.
Think of all of the scary headlines in our newsfeed, the frightening news from friends.
These days, most of us have a first-hand heightened awareness about what could
go wrong.


This is yet another reason why we need to seek reconnection to the present
moment. Information can be used to empower us, but it can also be used to frighten,
alarm, and paralyze us. A lot of how we respond has to do with how we handle our
anxiety. If we can stop and reconnect to our breath and to our sensory experience,
we can calm down and consider if there’s an action to be taken. If the answer is yes,
we can take action, which may reduce our anxiety. However, if there’s no rational
action to take, we can reconnect with whatever is going on in ourselves. This may
mean turning off the TV or logging off Facebook and giving ourselves the time and
space to seek an inner sense of calm.


Some Red flags:

  • Past Experiences: such as a distressing situation may stir up familiar
    feelings and cause you to feel anxious about facing similar situations.
    Lifestyle: working long hours, financial problems, exhaustion, stress,
    pressure at home or work.
  • Diet: can cause anxiety such as poor eating habits, binge eating,
    excessive dieting, eating unhealthy food and excessive caffeine and
    sugary foods.
  • Physical health: can have an impact on your mental wellbeing such as
    weight issues or if you are struggling with chronic pain or a long-term
    physical health condition.
  • Mental Health: other mental conditions such as stress and depression
    could make you more vulnerable to experiencing problems with anxiety.
    Medication and/or substance abuse: Long term prescribed medication,
    alcohol or banned street drugs can affect your mental health.



Anxiety can be overcome.

We don’t have to connect to imagined, scary future scenarios or live in our past. We
can tune into ourselves and what’s actually around us in the moment. We can pay
attention to our breath and reconnect to each of our senses, and we can use
proven tools and techniques to help relieve our anxiety.
Perhaps most importantly, we can challenge our critical inner voice. There are
actual steps we can take to actively work on overcoming this inner critic. If we can
get a handle on this “voice,” we can generally handle more. We can have more
perspective and put our self-compassion into practice. We can see thoughts for what
they are–just thoughts, separate from us and from the reality of our experience. We
can be kind to ourselves and notice when our mind is taken over by our inner critic,
and gently come back into the present moment.