The Wisdom of Anxiety

The Wisdom of Anxiety

Currently the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in Australia is anxiety.  Yet in the right dose and at the right time anxiety is a perfectly normal and important part of our human experience.  I am often asked why is this happening?

There is of course no single simple answer to this question, but understanding what anxiety is helps us to make sense of what ‘normal anxiety’ is versus ‘problematic anxiety’.  This helps us as individuals and as parents to begin to understand when not to worry and when to worry about the worry.  The best way to view anxiety is on a continuum (see image) and to know that individuals will move up and down the continuum depending on what is going on in their lives.

Another helpful tool that is often used to explain the relevance of anxiety in our lives is the analogy, that if we were to meet a sabre tooth tiger (not a common problem in Western Australia, or anywhere else these days in fact!) then in order to survive this experience we actually need our brain and body to react immediately to give us the best chance of survival.

In other words an anxiety specific response happens without us even thinking about it:   our body floods with adrenalin and cortisol, our breathing becomes shallower, our heart pumps faster, blood flow increases to the brain and major muscles, the liver releases stored sugar into the blood stream and our senses are heightened in order to give us an extra boost that helps us run away from the sabre tooth tiger.

As there are no sabre tooth tigers around anymore why are we still programmed to react this way?  In the right setting doses of anxiousness can bring about clarity of focus and linear concentration so for modern day living this can be useful for job interviews or starting a new job, public speaking, sitting exams or tests, needing to have a challenging conversation with a  friend or work colleague.   There may also be times when we interact with wild animals or we are perhaps put in dangerous situations that require our bodies to prepare for a fight / flight / freeze response (also known as an anxious response).  So in the right dose and at the right time this response is normal and will help us in these tricky situations.

One of the reasons anxiety becomes problematic is when people experience anxiety in the wrong situations or at a constant level.  For example, when leaving the house or in all social experiences is anxiety provoking.  Or if someone is in a relationship, they are not happy in, but don’t know how to leave, this can create a constant state of anxiousness.

It is also important to note that there are some key factors that play a part in why an adult or child might be more prone to problematic anxiety, such as genetic predisposition, temperament, learned within the family, being exposed to traumatic events, in conjunction with other conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Another integral complication with problematic anxiety is that some people have lived with these feelings for so long that they have become a normalised state of being.  When this is the case people will have found ways to cope and manage their anxiety – the main coping strategy is avoidance.

I think this is why it can sometimes take a long time for people to seek help, because by avoiding doing the things that make them anxious they can be lulled into a sense that they are ok.  This is a concern when raising children, because if we have learnt to avoid our own anxious triggers ,then we will find it hard to help our children understand and work through their own anxious moments.  If children don’t learn to do this when they are young, they are more likely to experience problematic anxiety later on.

In summary modern day stressors are different to the ones our ancestors faced, but the mind / body response is still exactly the same.  What is important is recognising what they are, this is where it is sometimes useful to see a counsellor (such as myself) to make sense of when anxiety is problematic for you and how you can best support yourself.

Learning how to rest and relax (this is different to numbing and shutting down) is also important.  Also, when we are in a rest or relaxed state we are better able to listen and pay attention to our own physiological responses to the challenges we face on a day to day basis.  Ultimately the desire is to draw wisdom and insight from our anxious feedback loop, that at its most basic level is designed to keep us safe, in order for us to thrive in our lives.

Workshops by Alex Field

In the Wellness Loft @ Remede

I have started running short educational workshops on topics of interest to the Remede community.

The benefit of workshops are:

·      A great way to learn about a subject of interest (either for yourself, family or friends).

·      Often power and solace in knowing you are not alone.

·      Cost effective.

·      Can be an introduction to 1 on 1 work.

Please email me 9286 1166 if you would like to explore a specific topic or if you have a minimum of five people and would like a private workshop experience.


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