What is anxiety and why is it there?

In a nutshell, anxiety is fear that has been distorted. When we feel fear normally, we experience the panic or anxiety symptoms but it is in response to an actual threatening event that is happening in the present. When something threatening happens we often feel shaky, get sweaty palms, feel knots in the stomach, our thoughts race and our breath is often shallow and fast or we hold our breath. Fear is normal and it is a helpful emotion. It tells us we are in danger and helps us to ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ to get us out of danger.

Anxiety is like a fear response that doesn’t go away and it is often not obvious why we are feeling anxious. When we are in ‘perpetual fear’ or a state of anxiety, we tend to avoid things that trigger the feelings of anxiety. These attempts at reducing the anxiety can lead to other problems such as taking up drugs or alcohol to reduce the anxiety which then forms addictions or people can develop eating disorders or other compulsive behaviours. Yet underlying these reactions is anxiety which has often formed for real reasons which we have forgotten or not recognised.

Generally, anxiety is either learnt from a significant person who is experiencing an anxiety condition or it can be from direct experiences that result in an anxiety condition. Anxiety can be passed down through generations as a reactive emotional pattern and a set of anxiety producing thoughts and beliefs. For example, it may be that a person’s grandparent experienced war trauma and the effects of that trauma permeated through the generations as a pattern. It may be that the grandparent’s trauma experiences are long forgotten and not seen as relevant however, the teenager, two generations later, is experiencing an anxiety condition stemming from her parent’s upbringing. No one is at fault. However, seeing anxiety as a condition that is bigger than ourselves is important. It is easy to believe that “there’s something wrong with me” or “I’m just an anxious person” which is not that helpful. Those thoughts tend to make anxiety worse.

What is important to remember is that generally there are a range of influencing factors that effects the development and severity of anxiety conditions, everyone reacts to events in their own unique ways and no-one is deficient for developing anxiety, and that there are effective ways of reducing anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Conditions

Anxiety conditions can manifest in different ways depending on the original influencing factors, the age of the person when the influencing factors occurred, and the beliefs and perceptions that resulted from those experiences. Some types of anxiety conditions include:

  • Generalised Anxiety (excessive worry and anxiety that is caused by a range of different events and situations)
  • Panic Attacks (short, 10 minutes periods of intense anxiety)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (anxiety condition cause by an actual traumatic event)
  • Agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house due to panic symptoms)
  • Social Phobia (fear of interpersonal relationships, communication with others etc., often involves feelings of panic and desire to escape from interactions with people)
  • Phobias (a specific type of situation evokes panic reactions such as heights or enclosed spaces)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (consuming obsessions and compulsive behaviours that significantly impair a person’s life)
  • All of these conditions have in common the experience of anxiety symptoms as listed below.
  • Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Excessive anxiety and worry occurring for most days in a six month period
  • Difficulties in controlling or reducing worry
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleeping disturbance
  • Difficulty making decisions and concentrating or mind going blank
  • Memory impairment
  • Symptoms of Panic

  • Shortness of breath, shallow breath or hyperventilating
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart
  • Knots or tightness in the stomach, nausea
  • Sweating
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Shaking
  • Numbing or tingling feeling
  • Feeling dizzy, light headed or faint
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling of unreality or of being detached from yourself
  • Feeling like you are going crazy, loss of control or that you may die
  • Recovering from Anxiety

    Understanding the factors that influenced the development of anxiety can help you gain a perspective that enhances calm feelings rather than anxious feelings. We can gain clarity by actively allowing the process of exploring family patterns, early childhood experiences and/or traumatic experiences. Identifying what triggers anxiety and learning new strategies, skills and perspectives to better cope with these triggers can be very effective in reducing anxiety. For example, it may be that a person has developed anxiety as a result of experiencing excessive criticism as a child. That person may generally be on hyper alert around other people, always scanning for possible criticism. They may find it difficult to relax around other people and misinterpret what other people say. Without the awareness of what they are doing, what triggers their anxiety and why, they are likely to not even recognise that their reactions to events are based on an anxiety producing “program” in their mind and falsely believe that everyone is out to get them. Understanding the patterns behind the anxiety is essential to decreasing the anxiety symptoms.

    Another important ingredient in healing from anxiety is creating a sense of safety and strengthening attitudes that you can cope well in life. As Susan Jeffers said in her book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”, the belief “I can handle this”, coupled with taking active and healthy steps towards facing and over fears, decreases the fear. Susan describes a strategy of mapping actions that take you from a place of pain to personal power and freedom. This is a great idea. The more mini steps you take to being in the situations that provoke feelings of anxiety, and by practising reducing anxiety in those situations through breathing, awareness of thoughts, mindfulness etc., the more that these events will cease to cause anxiety and you will start to feel safe. Small safe steps are the key. We generally want to avoid what causes us to feel anxious but by avoiding situations and triggers that cause anxiety, all we are doing is increasing the anxiety. If the situations or triggers actually are dangerous, wether that is physically, emotionally or mentally, then those situations are likely to cause further harm us and increase anxiety. Avoiding those situations or people is sensible. Learning to discern between what is anxiety and what is not safe helps us to feel in control of our lives and reduce anxiety.

    Taking action to heal anxiety is empowering

    Conscious Solutions offers therapeutic solutions to anxiety conditions


    Anxiety Recovery Group

    Call Vanessa Bushell on 0424 507 101 to make an appointment (Sunshine Coast, Australia) or locate a trusted therapist near you.

    Remember, ultimately this is YOUR healing journey and it is important for YOU to chose a therapist who you feel comfortable with and can trust.