is the body's way of responding to being in danger. Adrenaline is rushed
into our bloodstream to enable us to run away or fight. This happens
whether the danger is real, or whether we believe the danger is there when
actually there is none. It is the body's alarm and survival mechanism.
Primitive man wouldn't have survived
for long without this life-saving response. It works so well, that it
often kicks in when it's not needed - when the danger is in our heads rather
than in reality. We think we're in danger, so that's enough to trigger the
system to go, go, go! People who get anxious tend to get into scanning
mode - where they're constantly on the lookout for danger, hyper-alert to any of
the signals, and make it more likely that the alarm system will be activated.
there is real, or we believe there is a real, threat or danger, our bodies'
automatic survival mechanism kicks in very quickly. This helps energise us
to fight or run away ('fight or flight response'). The action urge
associated with anxiety is to escape or avoid. We will therefore notice lots of
physical sensations, which might include:
Heart racing -
This helps to take the blood to where it is most needed – the legs so that we
can run faster (flight);
the arms so that we can hit out
the lungs to increase stamina. At the same time blood is taken from the
places it is not needed for example fingers, toes and skin. These changes
cause tingling coldness and numbness.
Breathing gets faster- This helps the bloodstream to carry oxygen to the arms, legs and lungs.
This will give us more power. The side effects may include chest pain,
breathlessness and a choking feeling. As there is a slight drop in the blood
and oxygen being sent to the brain we may feel dizzy or light headed, he may
experience blurred vision.
tense and prepare - The large
skeletal muscles tense and create power, this may cause pain, aching and
Sweating helps to cool the muscles and the body. It helps to
stop them from overheating. Sweating can also make us more slippery to
This lets more light into his eyes so that overall vision
improves. Side effects may include sensitivity to light or spots before
Digestive system slows down - These are not
important while in danger and so are slowed down then the saved energy goes to
where it is most needed. Side effects may include nausea, butterflies and a
alert - We
will be concentrating on looking for danger, much less able to concentrate on
anything else. We're waiting for something to happen.
certain places at certain times, e.g. shopping at smaller
shops, at less busy times
with someone else
Go to the
feared situation, but use coping behaviours to get you through: examples
include: self talk, holding a drink, smoking more, fiddling with clothes or
handbag, avoiding eye contact with others, having an escape plan, medication.
These are called 'safety behaviours'.
behaviours can also help to keep your anxiety going. Whilst you depend on
them to help you cope, you don't get to find out that without them, the anxiety
would reduce and go away on it's own.
Whilst avoiding people or
situations might help you feel better at that time, it doesn't make your anxiety
any better over a longer period. If you're frightened that your anxiety
will make you pass out or vomit in the supermarket aisle, you won't find out
that won't actually happen, because you don't go. So the belief that it
will happen remains, along with the anxiety.
Cycle of Anxiety
We all feel anxious some times. A certain
amount of anxiety helps us to be more alert and focused. For example just
prior to an exam, a few exam nerves have a positive effect - motivating us,
helping us focus our thoughts on the job in hand, making us more alert.
Too much anxiety, or constantly being anxious, is unhealthy and detrimental to
our lives and relationships.
Vicious Cogs of Anxiety
By looking at the "cogs"
that keep the central problem going, we can target and make positive changes in
each of the cogs, which will at least, slow down, and at best, stop, the central
problem, for example:
Print a blank
Cogs PDF and fill in the factors that keep
Identify your triggers
What or when are the times when you are more
likely to get anxious? If you can see the patterns, then maybe you can do
something about those situations, and do something different.
See certain things?
Hear certain things?
Think ahead to certain situation?
Doing things differently
and using safety behaviours helps to
maintain our anxiety over the long-term, then it makes sense that learning to
confront it might be uncomfortable in the short-term, but will help us take
control and helps us feel better over time.
Make a plan to gradually do the things you normally avoid.
For instance if you normally avoid going out to big social events at work, then
start with a small dinner at a restaurant where you feel more comfortable, with
few close colleagues - not the annual Christmas party! Whilst it will feel uncomfortable,
you will learn that you can enjoy these events, and that the anxious feeling
does go away.
If you have a fear of particular types of places (e.g. lifts),
then you could start by listing different particular places (smaller, bigger
lifts, taller, smaller buildings, glass walls or enclosed etc). You could
start by standing next to a lift for a couple of minutes each day for a couple
of weeks, then slowly build up to standing in the doorway with the doors open,
then to getting in the lift without the doors closing, then to letting the doors
close before opening them again, then to going up one floor etc. You can use
breathing techniques or self-talk (challenging your unhelpful thoughts and
repeating more realistic thoughts) to get you through these times.
If you normally depend on 'safety behaviours' to help you
cope, then list them in order of importance, then start by dropping or not doing
the least important, and gradually work your way up over time.