The terms anxiety and stress are often referred to by some people experiencing anxiety attacks as one thing by saying they have "anxiety stress" whereas other people may use the two terms interchangeably. "Do I have anxiety or stress then?" I hear you ask. In reality anxiety and stress are two different things with different symptoms.
Anxiety affects not only your physical body but also your emotions and behaviour. The thing is ... due to evolution anxiety has a job to do. The function of anxiety is to protect your survival. When you are faced with a threatening situation the amygdala in your lower brain or reptilian brain kicks in during what is commonly known as the "fight, flight or freeze response".
The amygdala in the primitive reptilian brain automatically stores information based on previous encounters in order to preserve your body and your life. If there is a threat to your body or life it automatically pattern-match any new encounters to previous experiences before putting into action the "fight, flight or freeze" response . This all happens very quickly without your thinking brain (cortex) even having a chance to consider the possibility of a thought of danger.
The feelings associated with the development of the amygdala in pre-historic men were - at its most basic
Although we no longer have the same fears as prehistoric man having to fight wild animals to protect ourselves or killing them so we have food to eat, the human race still need to reproduce to avoid extinction. To further complicate issues the amygdala never evolved during evolution and is more or less still functioning the way it has been during pre-historic times. Instead, due to evolution humans developed the lymbic system ("emotional brain") and the cortex to give us cognition.
The amygdala in the reptilian brain is not sophisticated to differentiate between real life danger and anxieties caused by modern living like running late for work or appointments, playing stressful computer games, exam stress, road rage, work loads, juggling jobs, bullying, financial pressures and social anxieties. The effect is the same on your body regardless of the type of pressure. For that reason anxiety has a purpose to serve you which is that it thinks it is warning you.
Although it causes a lot of discomfort ultimately, it shows that you are human and that your "alarm system" is working. A bit like a smoke alarm in your house that sometimes goes off without there being smoke. The good thing is that there are coping strategies for managing anxiety.
To further make sense of anxiety you also have to understand stress.
If you are like most people you might think stress is the cause of your distress, but really, stress is a symptom of pressure. ... and like anxiety, we cannot just get rid of pressure because we need a certain amount of it.
Pressure encourages humans to take risks to reach our full potential. The problems happen when there is too much pressure without respite and we lack the right coping strategies to manage that.
How come some people manage stress easier than others? What is the secret to managing stressful situations?
Stress is ever-present in the background and that causes anxiety in many different ways. Sometimes we are even our own worst enemies by putting that pressure on ourselves out of fear of failure or rejection or for whatever other reason.
When we keep loading things into our stress buckets and don’t have an outlet “tap” for it that stress bucket will eventually – and usually sooner rather than later – start to overflow. If you are prone to being a workaholic or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and not getting enough sleep this can often make your stress bucket overload even quicker. Unpaid bills, paperwork stuffed in drawers or "to do lists" piling up add to the stress. Although these may be out of sight they do not go away.
Most of us wait until our stress buckets are overflowing with pressured situations before we stop; or more like it: before our bodies just refuse to carry on which can affect our physical, emotional, mental and psychological health. To maintain better well-being why not start by scheduling in regular things to do that make you feel positive and take out some of the stuff in your stress bucket by dealing with them.
Contact Somerset Counselling Therapy to get help with the pressures in your life that trigger anxiety and stress for you.