The ABC of Anxiety

I was watching breakfast TV this morning to catch up on the Cold Blast that has a tight grip on New Zealand for some days now. While sipping my hot cuppa after the weather update I listened to a psychologist talking about anxiety, how normal it is (according to her more people are suffering from an anxiety disorder than do from depression), how the body responds, and then offered a smorgasbord of suggestions how to deal with anxiety: relaxation, meditation, yoga, and if nothing helps seek out a health professional. This is the standard advice and treatment given for anxiety – besides drugs. How then is it that anxiety in increasing and people struggle with it for years? Can it be that there is something missing in understanding anxiety?

Anxiety is a derivation of fear. We never speak of a fear disorder, because fear is a NORMAL response to a dangerous situation. In a split-second the brain takes in the circumstances of the environment through the senses, evaluates it on whatever prior knowledge or experience people have of similar circumstances. Then it shoots neurological commands (mainly through the neurotransmitter adrenaline and cortisone) through our body to either freeze, fight, or flight. The commanding thought that goes with it is for example ‘Oh, help, run, or I am going to be killed’! When you stand in the middle of the road and a truck is coming you way, you want to quickly mobilize your body and get out-of-the-way. You will want to run. Fear helps you to do so. When the situation has passed, fear will leave your body and your physical chemistry will go back to ‘normal’.

Anxiety on the other hand, is not so much about a real situation. Anxiety is being fearful of something that is not real. Anxiety is about something PEOPLE THINK is real – but it isn’t because it has not happened yet and may or may not happen at all. Anxiety is a feeling people have because they have a thought or a battery of thoughts about a future situation they are making up inside of their heads. “If I am late for work I will be fired” or “If I speak out I will be hurt” or “The share market will crash and I will lose my money” or “I might lose everything if there is another earthquake” or “If I get closer to my partner I will get hurt”. These are just a few examples of fearful thoughts, worries about possible future events or consequences that are the cause feelings of anxiety.

Unfortunately, the human brain has no way of distinguishing whether something is real or people just think it’s real. It will respond the same way as it does in dangerous situations: adrenaline and cortisone will flood through the body – yet there is nothing OUT THERE to respond to, only an imaginary threat. People don’t have to freeze, flight, or fight. The way I see it, spiralling anxious thoughts leads to more flooding with neuro-chemicals which might lead to a full-blown panic attack.

One might say there is no such thing as an anxiety disorder. It should be classified as a thought disorder – although I think it is not helpful to be seen as a disorder at all. It only benefits the pharmaceutical industry who can sell millions of dollars worth of drugs, without addressing the root cause of the anxiety, people’s thoughts, but instead messing around with people’s chemical make-up.

Anxiety is more about lacking understanding how our brain works. Once individuals can be helped to see that their thinking is causing their feelings, they are in control of changing that. They can let go of their worrisome thought by learning it is just a thought, it’s not real. The average person has 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day. Why not wait for a positive thought about NOW and give energy to that? Let go of the negative thought of what might happen if…, it’s not real. When you are in a calm state your inner wisdom will tell you whether you need to do something about your investment portfolio to be less vulnerable to share market fluctuations. It is not hard to see that a state of high anxiety is not helpful for making good decisions or plans.