Can you remember when you were sitting for an important exam? You might have felt restless, going over and over the material, feeling a bit panicky. Maybe you were sweating more than usual, you felt your heart beating faster or more strongly, your hands were all clammy. Or you sat in front of your exam paper and you suddenly blanked out … knowing that you know the answer but could not recall it.
Or you might recall a moment when you were on your way to school to a teacher who you were afraid of. And you were constantly thinking about situations that teacher might call you out and scold you, playing such scenarios in your head, over and over again. Or you might have been relaxing at home with friends or family, and someone reminded you about school, and you suddenly felt like vomiting or you started breathing very rapidly and shallowly.
Or you have moments, nowadays, where you often end up feeling your heart racing, or you end up all sweaty as you think about something you’re afraid might happen? Or you have a lot of unexplainable headaches, diarrhoea, and feel very nervous or worried most of the time?
All of these situations describe anxiety. Anxiety is not an illness. It is a way in which our mind, body and emotions try to safeguard us from dangerous situations by anticipating potential dangers, preparing us to act when they happen, teaching us to avoid such situations. Anxiety is a reaction that involves you as a whole person, with all the different aspects of yourself, and is very often not within your direct control.
Anxiety can manifest itself in our body in the following way:
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Shortness of breath
- Increased sweating
- Trembling, shaking or muscle twitching
- Feeling weak or tired
- Experiencing nausea or gastrointestinal problems (gas, constipation, diarrhoea)
- Sensation of choking
- Dry mouth
It can affect our thoughts in many ways including:
- Having difficulty controlling the worry
- Having trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Playing future worst case scenarios in your head over and over
- Replaying past situations over and over again
It can manifest in our emotions through:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Feelings of danger, panic or dread
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Feeling agitated
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling an overwhelming fear of dying
- Feeling strong fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’
And it can also influence our behaviour such as:
- Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
- Avoiding social situations
You might be experiencing some symptoms described above without knowing what is actually causing them. This is normal as our minds can easily remember the negative reaction we have but forget what triggered it off.
Anxiety can take on different forms. It can involve a general feeling of anxiety that is present almost all the time for no apparent reason; it can consist of panic attacks; it can be an irrational fear (phobia) of something specific; it can involve obsessive thoughts or repeated compulsive behaviours; it can consist of fear of, or extreme discomfort with, social situations; it can involve the fear of being separated from loved ones; or it can be related to past traumatic events.
If you do experience any of the above, it doesn’t mean that you are doomed to always feel this way. Although you might have a tendency to be anxious in difficult moments, there are different techniques that can help you handle anxiety in a better way. These include adopting a more accepting attitude to life and yourself, varied body practices, medication, psychotherapy, and social contact. We will discuss these in more detail in future articles.