Everybody feels anxious from time to time. Common examples are the feelings young people get before taking an exam, while many adults feel anxious before giving a speech. Performance nerves can help us to focus, but for many of us these feelings get in the way of our enjoyment.
For some people these feelings are so strong that their lives are severely affected. They may start to avoid certain situations, particularly those involving other people, which can result in them becoming isolated and withdrawn.
People can experience long term physical effects from high levels of anxiety such as eczema and other skin disorders and muscular tension can lead to back and neck pain or headaches. People can also suffer from general exhaustion, particularly when sleep is affected.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety is often felt in the chest and throat, affecting our breathing which can become short and shallow. This can lead to feeling light-headed and create a sense of being separated from our surroundings as if we were in our own little bubble. Our voice may start to sound cracked or shaky, higher in pitch or we might lose our voice altogether.
Levels of Anxiety
We all expect to feel some anxiety before an important event. We notice it building then peak as the event gets under way. We would then expect the feelings to fade once the event is over.
For some people this peak can be excessive and very hard to manage. They may start to feel out of control and may find their hands shaking and their voices becoming croaky. This limits their ability to perform effectively and reduces their enjoyment. Over time it may significantly affect their wellbeing.
There are also people who are in a permanently agitated state. For them any temporary increase in anxiety comes at a high price with all of the expected symptoms being significantly exaggerated and therefore much harder to manage. It may also take much longer for these feelings to subside.
Free Floating Anxiety
When these feelings come upon us without a recognisable source they are sometimes described as free-floating anxiety. The underlying cause can be hard to pin down and they can be unpredictable as there are no clear triggers. For example, this may be rooted in not having felt safe as a child growing up or losing someone, such as a parent or partner, who created in us that feeling of safety.
Being in a stressful situation for a long period can also cause such feelings to become a permanent part of our lives. Having this anxiety always in the background is challenging for us and when an anxiety provoking situation occurs our feelings can go off the scale.
A panic attack is particularly unpleasant and very upsetting for the person experiencing it and those who are around them at the time. It can be so disturbing that the fear of having such an attack can dominate people’s lives. People have described the sensation as being like having a heart-attack with particular emphasis on being unable to breathe. Some people fear they will collapse while others have an overwhelming impulse to run away. In many cases there is a fear of losing physical control.
My understanding is that people become overwhelmed to the point where they cannot contain their emotions. This may be the result of a single event or an accumulation of circumstances with the final trigger being something that might seem almost trivial to an outsider.
I believe there are two aspects to successfully dealing with anxiety. Firstly learning to manage the feelings in real time when they occur, and then exploring the origins of these feelings and identifying their triggers.
Many successful techniques are based on creating a feeling of being grounded. Deep breathing, with a short inward breath and a long outward breath, can increase our feelings of calm. The physical sensation of being grounded can come from touching solid objects and focussing on feeling the ground beneath our feet. Awareness of our body and its physical surroundings through movement may also counter feelings of being out of control and disconnected.
For people who are experiencing an underlying level of anxiety that seems to have no obvious cause it might be helpful to reflect upon aspects of your life which were unsettling and particularly on any recent changes. Counsellors are trained to work with people to explore the origins of these feelings and to help them develop strategies to manage their symptoms as they occur.
© 2017 Michael Golding
About this blog ...
This is a collection of personal thoughts and observations on issues that many people are facing every day.