Common Anxiety and Why it happens
Anxiety is a natural, normal part of life that many people are able to manage and tolerate.
When anxiety stops you from living your life and interferes with valued and important activities, it is a problem that needs to be addressed. But before we get into what you need to watch for in terms of unmanageable anxiety, let’s talk about our “caveman minds.”
Imagine back to a couple of hundred thousand years ago when we were cavepeople. In order to survive, our brains had to tell us when there was danger. “Watch out, there’s a bear over there and we don’t want to get eaten.” “Don’t make the rest of your clan mad or they’ll kick you out and you’ll be vulnerable to attack.”
Our brains were constantly trying to keep us alive. Fast forward to today. Our brains are still trying to do the same thing. They haven’t evolved as much as the world has. So here are our brains trying to keep us alive, except that most of the danger we encounter isn’t life or death. The response in our bodies and our minds would make us believe the contrary.
As much as this has been an adaptive function for our species, it isn’t always helpful to us.
Common anxiety signs to keep an eye out for:
- Excessive worry — This is probably the sign that most people are familiar with. Not only do worry thoughts occur frequently, but they are difficult to rid of and are stopping you (or making it harder for you) to do activities. This can range from work to driving to socializing. Sometimes the worry is constant and about everything – or nothing specific.
- Physical sensations — increased heart rate, sweating, tightness in chest or throat, shaking or trembling. These physical sensations are often associated with panic attacks, but they aren’t exclusive to them. Sometimes people get more physical sensations of anxiety than they do worry thoughts and sometimes they don’t get many physical sensations at all. If you’re having these, especially when combined with a feeling of dread, you are likely experiencing anxiety.
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating — These often (but not always) go together. You may be fidgety or have trouble sitting still, often need to pace or move around. You also may have a hard time concentrating or remembering things. These are both very common signs of anxiety that are often overlooked.
- Difficulty sleeping — Sleep problems can be caused by a number of issues, including anxiety. Many people have trouble falling asleep because their minds are racing with worry thoughts or just “to do” thoughts. Other people can fall asleep but will wake up in the middle of the night with their minds racing, and then have trouble falling asleep again.
- Irritability — If you feel annoyed, frustrated or just irritable often this could also be a sign of anxiety. Things can bother us much more easily when we’re anxious and we may not even be aware as to why they are bothering us.
When we get into an anxiety loop, it can be difficult to get out of, because we typically struggle with it. Like a struggle switch is turned on in our brains. There are ways to turn this struggle switch off (or at the very least down, to a much more manageable level – remember, we all have at least some anxiety, it’s part of being human). First, you can try natural practices such as meditation or yoga, which have been found to be very beneficial for anxiety. You can also try journaling or exercising, both of which can decrease anxiety. If your anxiety is debilitating, you feel anxious on most days or have symptoms of anxiety for 6 months or longer, you will likely need counselling so that you can learn skills to manage it on your own. Recognizing the signs is an important first step, and deciding to take some control back in your life is an important second one.