What is anxiety?
A life that requires us to move in "fast" rhythm, to deal with the stress of survival and attempt to make time for our professional and personal lives. These are some of the reasons that can cause us intense stress. In some cases, stress can be helpful, work constructively and help us make better decisions about our lives. However, when anxiety becomes frequent and intense it becomes painful and destructive to our daily lives.
The word anxiety comes from the verb " άγχω " which in ancient Greek means to tighten or strangle. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worrying thoughts and physical changes such as an increase in blood pressure. Anxiety can include feelings of fear, nervousness and worry. It usually occurs in the face of a situation where we do not know the outcome and feel threatened.
What can make us anxious?
Intense anxiety can start from a thought about the future that we cannot control (uncertainty), a fear of failing, that if we do something wrong we will be judged harshly, that we must always be right, a worry about our immediate social environment, what will happen if something happens to somebody close to us.
These examples suggest difficult situations that we are called upon to deal with, yet we may also experience intense anxiety about easier situations such as stating that we are not available for the day to our significant other.
What happens in our body when we are stressed?
The first reaction we have when we feel stress is physical, before we even realize that something is disturbing us and before we decide what our reaction will be. When we are faced with a threat (real or imagined) the flight or fight mechanism is automatically activated. It is often detected in our body as a feeling of tightness in the chest area and breathing difficulty. Our body is a compass, if we listen to its responses we can better understand where the intense anxiety is coming from. However, it is easier to discern the signs/symptoms of stress in others and less so in ourselves.
Symptoms of anxiety
Stress can cause us:
- Disturbed sleep and difficulty concentrating.
- At times of intense pressure, it can create muscle tension and overexertion.
- Sometimes it is responsible for inability to control anxiety and unusual agitation.
- Often creates irritability and nervousness.
- For each person it is different and can vary in degree and intensity.
When our stress is a problem?
Anxiety becomes dysfunctional when we experience the symptoms mentioned above and in parallel:
- It's intense.
- Sometimes it lasts beyond exposure to a risk.
If we feel the above symptoms for a long time and at the same time feel that our anxiety :
- It is too intense.
- It lasts beyond exposure to a risk.
- It is present in situations which objectively do not involve danger or threat.
- It appears for no particular reason.
People who experience intense anxiety too often may experience stomach aches, severe headaches, neck pains and are constantly tired may suffer from an anxiety disorder, the most basic ones are :
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Phobic Disorders
- Specific phobias
- Social phobia
- Panic disorder (Panic crisis)
- Obsessive Compulsive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
How is it treated?
The therapist initially stands next to the client, creating safety. It is very important for the therapist to make the client aware of the difficulty he/she is facing. Then the therapist tries to identify and recognize the source of the stress, assessing the thoughts and life parameters that give more or less stress to the client. The ultimate goal of this is to make him understand where the stress comes from and what its function is.
The therapist suggests basic cognitive tools and relaxation techniques to ease the tension of the client and offer a different perspective. Which will help him towards new effective ways of managing stress.
Then when the therapist has a better understanding of things, he starts to change his old way of thinking to an alternative way that does not involve the same tension. He may feel that the situation was not as threatening as he first thought, or that it is but he has learned to cope better. This helps him to better route any changes in his life, to be more flexible to them and to create a better (carefree) version of himself.