What is anxiety?
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to a stressful situation. When our body feels fear it produces the ‘fight or flight’ response, this is an instinctive mechanism that floods our body with adrenaline (and other chemicals) preparing it to fight or flee the danger.
When there is a real and present danger we will use up these chemicals by the way we react to it; for example if we have to flee a sinking ship or fight a wild animal. Lesser things like performing a sport or singing on stage can produce these feelings, but they can, if harnessed and controlled, help us perform to our best. They can remind us of the importance of a situation, give us the physical and mental focus that keeps us sharp and able to perform at our peak, and once this fear is faced, we can even feel euphoric.
When anxiety becomes a problem
Anxiety becomes a problem however, when we get these feelings and physical/psychological responses when there is no real or immediate danger. When we do not need these responses, when we can not harness or handle them anxiety can take over.
Anxiety can be specific or general. This means it can occur in response to a stressful event (specific) or be present all the time (general). Please see our page on Anxiety Disorders for more about specific conditions.
According to the DWP, we would consider anxiety to be a problem when it is “disproportionate to the severity of the stress, continues after the stressor has gone, or occurs in the absence of any external stressful event”. This means a ‘disorder’ exists when anxiety is present at levels that are no longer helpful, but are instead causing a problem in day-to-day life.
If you feel that anxiety is affecting you in this way, you are not alone and there is much that can be done.
What Uncovered is interested in is how people can overcome problems. In this instance, how can they gain control over their anxiety and begin to manage it in an appropriate way.
We would generally see this as a process that tackles anxiety from two sides:
1) Managing the stressors and
2) Managing the responses.
Here we look at 1) Managing the stressors, see or page on Anxiety Management – Managing our Response to Stress for more on 2) Managing the responses.
Managing the stressors – external factors
We all have stressors in our lives, factors that have the ability to cause us stress. For each of us we will have different stressors, each affecting us in different proportions, but for most of us there will be:
- Social factors.
Within each of these components are situations that will provoke anxiety or cause us stress.
For each of us, the degree that these components create situations that result in us becoming anxious will vary. A teenager living on the street or a man or woman experiencing domestic abuse, is likely to have a high degree of anxiety about their situation with little control over what happens to them.
For someone in a partnership with a loving, considerate partner, the anxieties provoked by that situation are likely to be far fewer. Part of us gaining control over anxiety would be to understand the things that make us anxious and try to deal with them – remove them altogether or, if not possible, look at ways of reducing the stress within the situation.
Minimising external stressors
Stressors need to be looked at and strategies put in place to minimise these stressful events. We need to ask ourselves:
- What is causing me stress?
- What can I do about it?
- Am I taking on too much?
- What are the consequences of changing this situation?
We need to find a balance that allows us to minimise stress, but that doesn’t create a tendency to avoid what we need or want to do. The more we avoid anxiety, the more we limit our lives.
Exercise: Write down different areas of your life that make up your day-to-day existence for example: work, money management, chores
Look at the wheel below; you may want to change the headings to fit your life best. Mark each spoke of the wheel out of 10. 0 = not stressful at all 10 = Extremely stressful.
This will help you identify areas in your life that cause you the most stress. Now ask yourself this question: What spoke am I going to change? Or, what number would I like to have put and when by?
Setting your focus on an area and giving yourself a target should spur you into action, remember even a little action is a step in the right direction. It is a start of you having control over your decisions, not the other way around.
The stress bucket
Some situations are simply stressful. Things like moving house, getting married, getting divorced, and starting a new job are all stressful life events. All are to do with change.
Each creates an element of uncertainty and, depending on how they occur, perhaps a lack of control. Uncertainty and lack of control can lead to insecurity, which, in turn, can provoke anxiety.
These events are essentially temporary, however, and most of us are able to cope with one of these on its own or perhaps two together. When stressful situations begin to build up on each other, however, we can begin to get irritated and annoyed with things that would not normally annoy us. We snap at people around us. We might feel on edge all the time, can’t settle, can’t concentrate, can’t sit still. We maybe get in a cold sweat worrying about going out for a meal with a few friends, or something else that could be unrelated to the actual stressor itself.
Our ability to cope with stress is like a bucket’s ability to hold water. It can only hold so much. If you keep pouring more in, it can’t cope. The water spills out over the sides. We either need a bigger bucket or less water.
Until we can learn to manage our response to situations better, we need to control the amount of anxious situations we are trying to deal with. Once we have learned to do this then we find we can begin to cope with more.
Our 'Overcoming Anxiety' programme guarantees to help anxiety sufferers regain control over their lives.
The choices we make
What I would suggest is that we each have a choice to some degree of what we do and how we do it. For each choice we make, however, there may be both benefits and consequences. The more resources we have (money, confidence, security etc.) then the greater flexibility of choice we tend to have. Even in the most dire situations, however, we still have choices, however limited. As we begin to take responsibility for our situation we can begin to exercise freedom of choice and control and reduce the uncertainty that often goes hand in hand with anxiety.
Consider your family, work and social situations. Consider the various factors that are causing you stress and worry. Again ask yourself the following questions:
- What can I do about them?
- Am I in a job that I don’t like/relationship that is detrimental/a social activity I don’t enjoy?
- If you answered yes to Q2 ask yourself: Could I leave? What would that mean for you, your partner or your children?
- Are you always saying yes when you want to say no and therefore taking on too much?
- If you answered yes to Q4: What would it be like to say no? What pressures are people putting on you and what pressures are you putting on yourself?
- What are the external factors provoking anxiety and how am I responding to these emotionally?
- Who can I ask for help?
- What do I need to do right now to change the situation or the way I am dealing with it?
Anxiety, further help
We hope you have found this information useful, please also see
What Is Anxiety
Fight or Flight
Coping with Anxiety
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
No More Panic
Anxiety and Debt
Anxiety as a Result of Domestic Abuse
Work Related Stress
Anxiety and Substance Abuse