Anxiety Freaks Me Out!

Anxious woman

A young North American woman, let’s call her Christine, requested an appointment for online consultation. She contacted me because she suffered from anxiety attacks, insomnia, and she also worried constantly. She explained that she had been anxious since she was an adolescent. Christine used to wake up several times at night thinking of different social situations that caused her anxiety. Another source of her anxiety was her relationship with her boyfriend. As she puts it, “all this freaks me out!”

Her symptoms were the typical of people with anxiety: over all tension, tightness in chest, shaky hands, dizziness and nausea.

Christine coped with her anxiety in different ways. She tried to avoid the typical anxiety-producing situations and when she couldn’t avoid them, Christine used to distract herself by watching TV as a way to get her mind off worries. At times she would fight her anxiety with positive thoughts such as “I should not get so anxious. I can be calm.” At other times she would also practice deep breathing in order to sooth her anxious feelings.

I helped Christine to overcome her anxiety in total of five online sessions. First we look at her strategies (avoidance, distraction, deep breathing and positive thinking) that didn’t give any lasting results. Then, based on our consultation, we arrived to few strategies that she started putting into practice. After several weeks Christine noticed a slight improvement and from then on she became more confidant about herself.

Almost two years later I emailed her to see how she was doing. Her reply showed that the positive changes were long lasting even though she had been going through a very stressful time! Here is Christine’s reply:

“Things are going well! I haven’t had an anxiety attack since our sessions and my anxiety rarely flares up these days. Since moving on from (a country) I’m able to reflect and realize that the isolation of where I lived greatly contributed to my anxiety. Also my partner at the time was a major contributor. I’ve since moved on from (that country) and that relationship and am feeling much better. As my confidence rises so does my ability to control my anxiety. A testament to this has been my state of mind for the past 9 months which have been some of the most stressful of my life so far. I’ve maintained ambition and a positive attitude through it all. I have not had to use any of the techniques you taught me in almost a year and a half. Thank you again so much for your help in such a difficult time.”

The Physiology of Fear and Anxiety

vitruvian man

Let’s take a brief look at the physiology of fear and anxiety. Imagine that you have travelled back millions of years in time. You are sitting beside a camp fire in a cave enjoying your meal. Your body’s muscles are relaxed and you feel happy.

Suddenly, in your peripheral vision you notice an animal nearby. As soon as you turn your head, a large and ferocious-looking sabre toothed tiger charges toward you!

Immediately your body goes through a series of drastic changes caused by the “fight or flight” response – Mother Nature’s way of protecting you from danger.

This innate and automatic response to fear and anxiety is characterized by a chain reaction originating from the brain which orders the secretion of adrenaline. This hormone brings about the following changes in your body:
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Fear is a Curious Phenomenon

london blitz

A group of scientists undertook a research study on fear in England during the Second World War. During nightly air bombardments in London, when entire neighbourhoods were being destroyed, researchers checked people in the streets for anxiety levels. They also tested people living in the rural areas where there was no bombing. Surprisingly, the rural people showed higher anxiety levels than the city dwellers. Why? The city people accepted the bombings as a regular event and adjusted their lives to cope with them. Meanwhile, the rural people worriedabout the possibility of being bombed, and the unpredictability of such thing caused them more fear and anxiety.

Many studies show that people are mostly afraid of familiar objects or everyday situations. For examples, there are more people suffering from phobias of spiders and birds than those suffering from fear of snakes. There are more people afraid of dying in an airplane crash than by bombing.

Since humans have an unlimited imagination, we can have phobias of practically anything. I recall a gentleman who was afraid of looking at the angles of buildings. In order to avoid a panic attack, he would draw a circle on a notepad and stare at it until he calmed down. A woman was afraid of vomiting or seeing others vomit. She was always on guard to avoid all those foods that she was certain that could cause her vomit. Another young woman had to liquefy everything to drink because was afraid of swallowing solid foods. She feared that a piece of solid food would get stuck in her throat and that she would die of asphyxiated.

Some fears and phobias may appear “strange” or “weird” to others. However, they are very much real to those who suffer them. Anything could cause an anxiety reaction and, therefore, limit people’s lives.