Understanding Anxiety And Stress

Did you know:

It is estimated that 12% of all Canadians are affected by anxiety disorders?

You can learn skills for mood management?

Clinical counselling can open doors to understanding for self and family members?

Difficult and challenging events in our life can leave us feeling out of control. We can become overwhelmed by feelings of fear. We might have worries or thoughts that we are unable to shut down.

A young woman experiencing anxiety

Anxiety and fear are closely related. Anxiety comes from within yet fear comes from the outside world. Both fear and anxiety are normal reactions to dangers, either real or imagined. However, when these states are persistent they can get in the way of normal life.

For example, intense feelings of anxiety cause avoidance of certain situations. In the case of general anxiety, a person may worry about or focus on unreal things for long periods of time.

These reactions reflect the operation of the fear system in the brains. When we are anxious we are not present, but “thinking” in the past or in the future. Our minds can race and string together a whole series of events. Our brains and nervous systems can become out of balance making us feel like we have lost the “off” button.

Anxiety does serve a positive purpose. It helps us prepare for real danger. It can also serve as a motivator. For example, when we are late for work, it is anxiety that helps us hurry to get out the door and make it on time.

Anxiety is a rush of adrenalin gives us a “shot” of energy. In the nervous system it is like a jolt of reality that triggers the fear of being late. Your body goes into flight mode, your heart beats faster, your muscles tighten, movement speeds up and your body may even begin to sweat.

There can be times however, that our bodies react when there is no real danger. Think of anxiety like a car alarm designed to respond when someone is within a certain distance of the car. Sometimes alarms can become over-sensitive, sounding when there is no need.

Our nervous systems can also become over-sensitive, ringing the alarm of anxiety when there is no need. Just like a car alarm: it might need to be reset.

There are some very effective strategies that can help soothe the mind and body. Calm breathing, muscle relaxation techniques and clinical counselling can all be helpful. Our breath is a very efficient tool for calming our nervous systems with benefits for both our mental and physical health.

By learning what we need as individuals, when we are in a state of anxiety we can become more effective at overcoming it. We can learn to adjust our behaviour and to insert changes into our environment that will help regular our nervous system.

I work closely with my clients to identify the triggers and events – either past or present – that are contributing to their anxiety. At a pace that is comfortable for each individual, we strive to target strengths and healthy resources. These are used to mobilize those parts of the nervous system that require resetting. In doing so, they become more regulated to reduce flight-fight-freeze responses.

Over time, my clients will begin to experience more peace and calm in their lives. By reducing the unpleasant symptoms, we can expand the “comfort zone” for more life experiences.

A diagnosis of anxiety is divided into several categories including:

– Panic Disorder
– Agoraphobia
– Social Phobia
– Generalized Anxiety  Disorder
– Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
– Separation Anxiety (usually in youth and children)
– Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Anything that challenges our ability to cope can activate a stress response.  As I stated before, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The challenge of problem solving and finding new solutions can be both stimulating and satisfying. That is, until we reach our limit; after which we can begin to feel overwhelmed and drained.

The amount of control we have in any given situation can affect anxiety levels as well.  When we are stressed, we tend to avoid interpersonal relationships.  We might even isolate ourselves from actives that we once enjoyed.

As humans, we “need” connection with one another.  If our environment is safe, and we feel safe, we begin to response in a more calm, less anxious manner.  Our nervous system becomes more regulated.

If you are feeling overly stressed, it might be time to take a closer look at your lifestyle.  Some things consider include food, beverages, the amount of physical activity, sleep habits, balance of work, and fun.

Remember that it takes time and consistency to bring healthy change to your life.  Anxiety and stress are part of our lives.  Only when we develop awareness can we do something about it.  Only from awareness and understanding can we discover how to do things in a different way.

Our lives are the result of the tools that are available to us at any given time in addition to our interpretations and responses to situations we encounter.  Truly, life waits for our discovery of “self” and our investment in emotional wellness.

Joyce Barwis is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in Victoria, BC.  Joyce maintains a private practice at the Vancouver Island Naturopathic and Integrated Health Clinic.  If you need help dealing with anxiety and stress give Joyce a call at 250.881.1806.