Most of us, if not all of us have felt nervous at one time or another in our lives. Public speaking is something that makes most of us nervous. All those eyes are staring straight at us. That’s a lot of attention thrust our way. We feel the butterflies take flight, and they usually don’t land until we’re done with our speech. Aren’t we glad we’re done! Nerves and other feelings like feeling scared are natural and very necessary. Ever wonder how you’d react or what would happen to you if you didn’t respond to a dog running at you? How about beginning to crossing the road only to hear the roar of a car’s engine in your left ear. Run! Definitely run!
For some of us, these feelings are all too familiar and often they occur more frequently and triggered by situations that are less fear-provoking than those, and others like it, mentioned above. I’ve felt that rush of adrenaline pumping through my heart as I turned into the street the underground station is on and the view of it made my heart beat a thousand to every second. I’d be gripped by the thought of seeing my desk, or my boss, which I knew was coming sooner than I wanted. They’d find out soon enough: I’m just average. Nothing special here. I’d spend the entire journey on the underground screaming inside myself. Looking at the other passengers, silently screaming ‘Have you all gone crazy!?’. Entirely and utterly unable to understand why anyone would not see it my way. This is my anxiety. What’s yours?
Irrational fear is the right way of describing it. Admittedly, I was in the middle of a breakdown that eventually pressed the Pause button on my life for a few years after. But this a good example of anxiety. Irrational fear that gets in the way of leading a healthy life: that’s anxiety.
I learnt a lot about anxiety in the months that followed. It was all new to me. The education, indeed not the feelings and symptoms. Often, it left me speechless and bewildered. All those symptoms and I didn’t have a clue. But what are those symptoms? Well, thinking that everything will result in the worst possible outcome is the most upsetting symptom (for myself at least). You are mentally consumed with it. It breaks your concentration, erases your short-term memory and strips your patience down to almost nothing. It can stop you from falling asleep. Sleep anxiety was something I didn’t recognise. I simply thought I had developed insomnia on top of all my other problems. The more, the merrier? Not quite. I had become severely depressed and obsessional — two more symptoms associated with anxiety.
All these mental or cognitive symptoms affect our body function. I’d feel like I was losing my breath, no matter how hard I tried to relax or perform deep-breathing exercises. If I thought about it, which of course I did, my heart would start to race, and the adrenaline would flow through me. You can completely lose your appetite, feel the need to urinate, develop headaches more often and for me consistently, the dizziness was unbearable. I thought I had low blood pressure. My doctor thought I might have a problem with my heart. Going for an ECG will scare the life out of you if nothing else. Pins and needles are also symptoms of anxiety. I used to get them in my upper arms which would scream ‘Heart Attack!’ to me, but somehow I would push that thought away.’
We don’t all develop the same symptoms, and it is quite rare that someone would present with all the symptoms as a textbook case. Some of the symptoms I didn’t develop were muscle aches and tremors, excessive thirst and stomach upsets. Women can extend painful periods or even none at all. We can all lose response to sexual stimulation too.
If you think you suffer from anxiety and feel it is getting in the way of you leading a healthy life from day to day, please consult your doctor or another physician. Help is at hand, and good Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be very useful in relieving the mental stresses that take over our minds when anxiety strikes.