WITH LOVE ...
Anxiety – friend or foe?
Anxiety – friend or foe?
Anxiety’s a funny thing. It can be a symptom of something else or a condition in its own right. For some it is an overwhelming set of physical sensations – maybe a panic attack – for others it’s doom-laden, often random or catastrophic intrusive thoughts which can pounce as if from nowhere without warning. All too often it can be a mix of both physical and emotional feelings, which are frankly, a colossal pain in the arse.
So, why does it happen, and is there anything we can do or learn from it?
The first signs and sensations of anxiety can be sudden and inexplicable. They can feel foreign, overwhelming and terrifying – feeling sometimes as though our heart will beat out of our chest, we need to rush to the loo (for one reason or another), or perhaps that we might faint. They come with a sense of losing control, extreme vulnerability, and imminent danger, so it’s not surprising to feel scared and want for it never to happen again. A further down-side to the severity of these feelings (as if alone they weren’t enough) is that all too often we focus on how bloody horrible they are, and not so much on why they’re happening, or what exactly it is our body is trying to tell us….instead we become scared of the anxiety itself.
There are real and practical reasons our body has those physical feelings, but the long and short of it is we are preparing for fight or flight – our body is readying itself for its best chance of survival. Ok, survival may be a bit strong in most cases nowadays, but certainly (albeit unwittingly) we perceive some sort of threat which triggers us into an anxious ‘survival’ state. You’d be amazed at what our bodies can actually tolerate in terms of accelerated heart rate etc., and knowing this can help to reassure that a panic attack is unlikely to do anyone any lasting physical harm.
However, whilst a panic attack, or any other form of anxiety may not directly cause you any physical harm, it can feel, emotionally, very damaging and exhausting.
So maybe if we could look at it from a slightly different angle, we could see it differently. What if it was your friend, rather than your enemy?
Imagine, for instance, your anxiety (in whatever form it takes) is actually a smoke detector, like the one you have at home. It sits there most of the time not doing very much, and then all of a sudden something happens which makes it give off a very annoying sound which is quite painful to hear; we swear at it, maybe panic momentarily, and want to make stop as soon as possible.
Would you press the button, remove the batteries, to shut it up and hope it didn’t happen again? Would you ignore it completely? Or would you find out why it’s gone off and attend to it?
It may be that it’s gone off because an over-enthusiastic toaster has ruined your slice of Hovis, or it may be that your house has a problem with its wiring and is about to burn down. The toaster can be addressed easily, the alarm reset, and you can continue with your breakfast unabated. The wiring however, would need more serious attention; possibly shutting down the electrics and calling a professional to investigate properly and avoid real danger.
So embrace the alarm! Even if it is awful – it is trying to help you – it is trying to tell you something. Be curious about it, feel it, notice it, when or why it goes off, are there any patterns to where or who with, listen to it, hear it.
What is it really saying to you?
I suppose what I’m getting at is, if your feelings of anxiety come from feeling out of control of your finances, having too much on at work, or from not doing something you’ve been putting off, you could, like with your toaster, probably take steps to remedy it yourself or with a little bit of help.
If, however your anxiety is telling you that you have a more serious, enduring issue – some unresolved trauma or emotional distress, a pattern of getting into harmful relationships, or some sort of phobia, you may need to think about “shutting down the electrics and calling a professional to investigate properly”.
One thing’s for sure, whether it’s a smoke alarm or anxiety, it has something to say and needs to be heard.
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