There are times when I feel that the world is exploding around me. My heart is racing, hands shaking and breath hard to catch. Often there is no clear reason for these symptoms, or the panic that rushes through my brain. Other times I find myself unable to sleep, and as I watch the hours pass in the twilight hours I wonder why I feel like this. But the answer is something common to us all, Anxiety.
“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.” – Soren Kierkegaard
So what is Anxiety, what does it feel like and how can we live with it? I teamed up with Metro journalist and Mental Health Advocate Hattie Gladwell to get to the bottom of it.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a term used to describe the symptoms of a number of ”Mental Health” conditions ranging from ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder‘ through to specific phobias. These can include agoraphobia (fear of being out of a safe place.) It can also include such things as ‘Panic Attacks’ and be linked to conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Really it represents a whole spectrum of conditions where the world can be uncomfortable to the point of disease. The official definition given by the ICD-10 (a national registry of disease,) reads like this;
‘A category of psychiatric disorders which are characterised by anxious feelings or fear often accompanied by physical conditions associated with anxiety’
A rather less than elucidating definition. But what does Anxiety actually feel like?
What does Anxiety feel like?
“I am exhausted from trying to be stronger than I feel.” -Unknown (source: paintedteacup.com)
Dr Google will tell you many symptoms, but it seems that the experience of anxiety is very individual. At the centre of it is worry, which can be accompanied by physical symptoms. These symptoms, if clustered together, can present a ‘syndrome’, which can lead to a specific diagnosis. This is all rather complex, and without seeing a doctor, self-diagnosis is dangerous. But we aren’t here to talk about specific types, but what it can feel like to live with it.
‘I have health anxiety, its all or nothing. I will get a surge in adrenaline, hot and cold flushes, shaking. It happens more when I’m isolated and have more time to think about it. Most days I am panicking that my whole life will be put at hold.’
For me the experience is not entirely different. As a patient of depression, I consider anxiety (a well recognised association of depression,) as an uneasy partner. For me the problems started young, fear of making a fool of myself in front of friends, or fear of being disliked. Over time this changed, and my concerns became focussed on relative fame, (if you could call my experience that,) of being judged by others for my words and opinions.
I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear’ – Steve Maraboli
This may seem silly to some, but I have had panic attacks after tweeting. I have stayed up for hours refreshing a timeline, worrying what others may say. These feelings have become more general, to a point where a phone call from an unrecognised number begins a spiral. Its uncomfortable, draining and often completely unnecessary, For me anxiety is a terrible affliction that seems bizarre later.
Living with Anxiety
If you suffer from unhelpful feelings of anxiety or catastrophic thinking, your Chimp is in control. – Dr Steve Peters, Psychiatrist
Anxiety, for many, is a lifelong problem. Depression has its ‘Black Dog’ (mine is named, and I have grown kind to it,) but Anxiety may need a different animal. You can pick yours, but mine can be a Vulture. Treatment is difficult, but there is great success in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication. These treatments recognise the problem as a system of thought, action, reaction and behaviour.
By identifying your own, and making adaptions, you can begin to recognise when you are being taken over and do something about it. In his best selling book ‘The Chimp Paradox‘, Psychiatrist Steve Peters describes these feelings as being hijacked by ‘The Chimp’, an analogy for the emotional centre of the brain. By recognising this, and through several techniques, Peters believes that you can take back control.
It is a great book, so give it a read.
Interestingly, these ideas are not new. In fact, Neuroscientist Sam Harris has discussed the overlap between neurocircuitry, religion and spirituality at length in his book ‘Waking Up.’ It is a big subject, but it may be that ancient religions, such as Buddhism, have already figured out how to deal with the pressures of the world by reconsidering their significance.
‘I am undergoing CBT, which I am finding very helpful. I use apps, but they aren’t a cure, but can be short term relief. They help me calm down. I tell myself that although things are horrible right now, it will pass’ – Hattie
So if you are like me, there is hope.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to discuss it, or pitch ideas for follow ups, follow me on twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy for this work to be reposted, just let me know if you do!
- Read all about Anxiety and check out Hattie’s YouTube Channel, its full of insightful and honest content!
- Check out ‘The Chimp Paradox’, ‘The Power of Now‘ and ‘Waking Up‘
- Consider your own experiences
- Comment below and let me know what you think.
The views above are those of Dr Janaway alone and do not necessarily represent those of his affiliates. They should not be taken as medical advice. If you are concerned about your health please access your local health provider. Please feel free to follow Dr Janaway on twitter. Image courtesy of Pixabay.