Anxiety is a very common emotion. Whether it becomes a problem depends on how often and how strongly we feel it on a day to day basis. Dr Edward Bloomfield helps us to better understand anxiety, how it can manifest as physical symptoms and how it can be related to our genetic make-up.
It is normal, and healthy, to feel some anxiety in situations that are new or challenging, such as going on a first date, preparing for an interview or starting a new job. This type of anxiety can actually be helpful and adaptive, as it can give us an extra boost of energy to help us stay focussed and prepare for possible challenges ahead.
It is when anxiety becomes very intense that it can start to be unhelpful. For example, some degree of performance anxiety, such as when giving a presentation, is normal and adaptive. It can help give us an edge. If the worries about our performance become overriding, however, this can actually start to interfere. Our available mental resources get channelled into thoughts, such as ‘am I doing ok?’, ‘what happens if I make a mistake?’ Such thoughts can cause us to lose our focus on actually doing the task at hand.
Anxiety can also become unhelpful if it happens very frequently. Some forms of anxiety, for example, occur in relation to specific triggers. These are commonly called phobias. Some people may have a needle phobia, a spider phobia or a social phobia (fear of being in social situations). Other forms of anxiety, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD for short), can be more diffuse and are not so easily traceable to any particular specific trigger.
Can anxiety manifest as physical symptoms?
Anxiety can show itself in physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, palpitations, stomach-churning, shaking and sweatiness of the hands. Sometimes we know we are becoming anxious because we notice these changes in our body. We may not always be aware of what has triggered these physical symptoms and this can give rise to the additional difficulty of how we interpret and make sense of these physical symptoms.
People who are prone to panic attacks may, for example, interpret the palpitations in ways that increase their anxieties (such as believing that they may be having a heart attack). This thinking pattern can obviously increase anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.
Obviously, on occasions these physical symptoms can have a genuinely organic and medical cause. More commonly, however, where there is no medical condition underlying these symptoms, psychological therapy can help the person in finding more adaptive ways of interpreting and understanding their physical symptoms and managing their thinking patterns.
What is the connection between anxiety and depression?
Symptoms of anxiety and depression can sometimes appear together. Sometimes persistent or unrelenting feelings of anxiety and excessive worry can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression.
Equally, if anxiety leads to avoidance of some of life’s opportunities or challenges, the person can lose their sense of agency and this can also contribute to feelings of depression. In such circumstances, psychological therapy can help people understand the role that anxiety is having on their lives and begin to gain more of a sense of control.
Do genetics play a role in anxiety?
Research shows that there can be a genetic component to anxiety. Psychological therapy, however, is more likely to focus on the life experiences that have shaped the way we have learnt to think about ourselves and our relationships and how we understand the world around us. Our beliefs, perceptions and reactions to situations are amenable to change through talking openly about them with a trusted therapist and developing more creative and adaptive ways of responding to life’s challenges and opportunities.
If you suffer from anxiety and would like help dealing with it, contact Dr Edward Bloomfield who will be more than happy to help you overcame your anxiety.