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When it comes to anxiety, everyone is different. Some suffer from debilitating panic attacks. Others have specific anxiety such as one connected to health concerns or social activities. Yet others contend with a more generalised anxiety disorder. But one thing is true of all of these: anxiety is a life-changing illness. I myself suffer from generalised anxiety disorder and have done since I was a little girl. Worrying is part of my personality. But exactly what is anxiety?
In this post, we will be looking at what it is, what causes it and it’s symptoms. What it feels like to have anxiety and the myths and actual dangers around having it.
So what is anxiety?
In a nutshell, it is a feeling of unease, fear or worry. For most people, anxiety is a rational reaction to an event in their lives, whether that be someone in their life being very ill, an exam coming up or having to do a presentation in front of a large group of people. This type of anxiety is perfectly normal.
For those of us who suffer from anxiety disorders, we can make literal mountains out of molehills! I remember a boss of mine told me that due to the amount of sickness I had had with my anxiety, he was worried that I would run out of sick pay over the Christmas period. What I heard in his words was ‘you need to get back to work, slacking time is over, and if you don’t, we’re not gonna pay you,’ but on speaking to other members of staff, I discovered that my boss was genuinely worried that I would run out of sick pay and be left struggling over Christmas; he was actually concerned about how that would affect my current mental state.
Anxiety can cause panic attacks, heart palpitations, upset stomach and more in sufferers. We catastrophise things, hear things between the lines of what others say to us and constantly tell ourselves that we are a failure.
It can affect anyone; male, female, old, young, rich, poor. It doesn’t discriminate.
What causes anxiety?
No one knows for certain what actually causes anxiety. It is, at its essence, an ancestral and basic instinct to protect us from danger. The body reacts as it always has since we first became sentient beings. In the days when we had to fight to survive against wild animals, your flight or fight instinct would kick in.
The reactions that the body would go through, on say, seeing a tiger on the prowl, would be to bunch up the muscles ready to fight the animal or run from it. The pupils would dilate to take in more of the situation; the breathing would become shallow to preserve oxygen, and the heart would speed up in reaction to the danger. Sound familiar?
The problem is, our bodies and brains still react in this basic of ways, but not necessarily to real danger. To those of us who suffer from anxiety, these reactions can arise from something as simple as being invited to a party!
Whether this is a learned behaviour from childhood, a chemical imbalance in our brain, or the result of a trauma in our lives, it doesn’t make it any less real to us.
Can anxiety kill you?
In a nutshell, no. Although when you’re having a panic attack, it can often feel like a heart attack. This is frightening, but not fatal. Anxiety is a mental illness and needs to be treated as such. It can cause physical symptoms, but cannot do any more than that. That’s not to say that it doesn’t hugely affect our lives. At one point or another, most sufferers will find that it’s just too much and have to take time out to recalibrate. But understanding that it isn’t a terminal illness can help some people to move forward and start to take control.
So if you scrolled all the way down here and didn’t read the long explanation, here are the main points:
- Anxiety is a mental illness, but it isn’t fatal
- It is a natural bodily instinct, but not necessarily a reaction to natural events
- It can cause physical symptoms, such as panic attacks, heart palpitations, and stomach upsets
- No one knows what actually causes it, but it’s likely to be brought about by learned behaviour from childhood, a chemical imbalance in the brain or a reaction to a traumatic event
- It is treatable and manageable, but it takes time.
What do you think?
Is your anxiety like the descriptions above? Do you suffer from a particular type? Share your thoughts in the comments below, it can be really helpful to both you and others to talk about your anxiety and how it affects you.