Ok, so welcome to the second video in this series of 7.
So in this videoI’m going to be covering anxiety in general.
What’s happening within our bodies and our biology, the purpose of anxiety and the need to feel safe, how that’s playing out in modern life and how our biology and need to feel safe is getting triggered in modern life stresses. The significance of people and relationships and how, whilst it’s essential that we connect with others, that also can be a source of anxiety and then I’ll recap at the the end.
So, anxiety as a disorder is part of the DSM-5 description here. It says “excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not, for at least 6 months”. The ‘DSM’ is the diagnostic manual that’s used by GP’S and so on. So this is obviously where we are experiencing this worry, maybe nervousness over a prolonged period of time. This is different from healthy fear.
It’s normal to get scared before an important event. It’s normal to worry about loved ones, and modern life can be stressful at times, even things like starting new jobs, interviews, moving house, all these sorts of things can be stressful and what we’ve been through over the last year (2020) to 2021 has been stressful for everybody.
Where anxiety starts to become a problem is where perhaps reactions are disproportionate to the event, so we’re starting to really worry to the point of panic, we’re experiencing symptoms associated with anxiety – sleeplessness and anticipatory anxiety, and this can start to be specific, this can be focused on a particular event, but it can then generalise, it can start to become a problem in more areas of our life.
So the way our biology has evolved in our development is first and foremost, we are wired to look out for danger. It’s imperative that we look out for danger first before we start enjoying the things around us because otherwise our genes wouldn’t have been passed on. The emphasis of the brain and the nervous system is to check for danger first.
And we’ve got this wonderful piece of kit called the Amygdala which is our early warning system in our brain, and this evolved in our early development as human beings, and it’s very quick to sense any danger. And if we’ve experienced something in the past that has felt threatening then the amygdala will register that as a potential threat and it starts to generalise. It says “well, this is similar to that scary thing that we had last time so I’m going to include this on my list of scary things”, and so this starts to build a warning system that’s constantly on red alert. Then we’re hypervigilant and the anxiety symptoms are with us more of the time. And lastly because the sensations are so uncomfortable, we start becoming worried about are we going to start feeling anxious or are we going to have a panic attack and so we create this negative loop that increases our anxiety.
So modern life is stressful but it’s not generally life-threatening. And so what the amygdala is doing here is it’s taking modern-day situations such as stressful deadlines at work, things like moving house, exams, and this is firing off the alert system in the body and we’re feeling all these anxious feelings which then generates anxious thoughts and as I said earlier, it starts to build this discomfort that we want to avoid. And because we’re avoiding something we’re actually making it a bigger problem. and so it creates this negative loop.
Anxiety can express itself in a number of ways – we’ve got this this sort of anticipatory anxiety worrying about what’s coming next, what’s coming down the line and we’re constantly being vigilant for what’s happening.
What’s happening next? How do I get through this? How do I survive it? If this is starting to build up in our system as our attention, then it can reach a point where we’re starting to feel overwhelmed and a panic attack is really an overwhelm – it’s where our system is going into complete Red Alert and wanting to get out of whatever the situation is.
If we are in a situation that feels that we can’t escape it, for whatever reason, it could be we’re on a plane or something like that, then it’s going to fire off the panic and alert system even more, because being trapped – if you can imagine as early mammals, actually being trapped would have been life-threatening and so modern-day expressions of that can be that we feel trapped in jobs, trapped in situations and the same alert system gets fired off and we get these panic and anxiety symptoms.
So then we develop safety behaviours like avoiding or OCD type behaviours, where we have certain routines that we do in order to make ourselves feel safe, maybe coping mechanisms such as – I’ll avoid the situation, I’ll avoid conflict, I’ll try and make sure that people like me, I’ll try and be seen to be doing a perfect job.
These are all safety behaviours and they kind of add to the pressure that we are experiencing.
Obviously we get the phobias with specific things. I personally, in my anxiety journey it started to expand out into flying phobia. I used to travel around the world, I took a year out in my 20’s and the flying was part of the excitement, but then I had a panic attack on a flight when I was working for the bank in London, flying up to Manchester from Gatwick only an hour’s flight and suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of trapped, wanted to get off the plane and then my amygdala was like ok flying is now risky, so the next time I was going to be flying it was firing off and so this is how the anxiety can spread.
And health anxiety that’s a common one – what these things can start to do is then it starts to spread out and so GAD – general anxiety disorder is the term for when we’re starting to experience anxiety in more areas of our life than just specific instances – so the list can grow.
People and relationships. We’ve evolved to be social animals. It was part of our safety mechanism, so we were safer as a group. Belonging was essential for safety. Our nervous system is primed to sense social cues – does this person like me? How am I fitting in? These things are wired to our nervous system, so actually if we feel that we’re at risk of being judged, if we feel we’re at risk of being rejected (especially if we’ve had difficulties in childhood), then we can feel like people are a threat to us.
So we can get this social anxiety, we can be hypersensitive to how people are receiving us, looking at facial expressions – we become self-conscious and then we start to feel anxious around others. This is also linked to feeling good enough, which is something that I’ll talk about a bit later.
So a quick recap – we did an overview of anxiety and how it manifests and how it’s linked to our need to feel safe. How modern life can trigger us, and fire off the same fight or flight mechanisms and how people and relationships fit into that as well. So in the next video we’re going to have a look at what do we do with this anxiety?
And rather than trying to avoid it, trying to get rid of it, what we are going to have a look at is turning towards it. We’re also going to have a look at soothing our nerves. Our nerves will be in a heightened state so the first thing we do is to start calming our nervous system down. Also then we can have a look at general self-care and the power of ‘nurture’ for our overall nervous system.
We’re going to have a quick look at the idea of how to soothe a part of us that’s experiencing distress from some historic event, and the concept of feeling ‘safe enough’.