An Introduction to Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety, stress or tension are normal features of everyday living in greater or lesser degrees. It may also be true to say nothing is achieved without it. Indeed a life without challenges could be rather dull.

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The Stress Factor

Examples of anxiety / stress could be seen as going for an interview, looking after someone who is unwell, rushing for a bus, or the one most school children and students meet on a regular basis; that dreaded exam. The feeling produced by any stressful situation could be one of mild anticipation to one of absolute terror.

A New Generation

A while back it was believed that most disasters, or difficulties were part of the natural order of things. However, during the last four generations progress has changed everyone’s circumstances beyond everything we were originally programmed to cope with. From moving at the speed of a horse we now can travel at twice the speed of sound, from the peace and quiet of forests and grassland we are now surrounded by noise, and more noise. From bearing the grief of our loved ones and close friends we now have world events of carnage and death brought into our home via radio, television, and satellite links.

Fight or Flight

We do however have the capability to help ourselves. Anxiety or Tension is a normal healthy response to danger or stress and when this has passed the body will then normally return to normal state. In some situations our bodies reaction to danger serves us well.

In times of danger our mind and body would in an instant become alert and ready to act quickly. The mechanism inside our bodies controlling this response is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and its main priority is to prepare the body for instant action, (survival) in the presence of danger. The muscles immediately tense for action to fight, or run away. This is a reflex action it’s like pushing an alarm button as far as your body is concerned, a chemical known as adrenaline (epinephrine) is pumped into the blood stream, its effects are instant.

Thought is so fast it gears the body into action. In the above scenario you run, in seconds you clear the field and close the gate. Looking back you become amazed at the speed by which you got out of the field and almost, without thinking about it!

For the muscles to react this effectively they require glucose. Oxygen is also required to transform the glucose into energy, this means the heart has to work harder to get the blood supply to where it is needed the most. This action will also raise the blood pressure. As the lungs take in more air to supply oxygen more carbon dioxide is produced, breathing becomes faster, even gasping to expel the carbon dioxide. There is a limit to the amount of blood we have in our body. This means to supply large deep muscles with more energy in our moment of danger it must take the blood from other areas of our body. Areas that will not be needing it at that precise moment such as the skin’s surface. In such an event, it may cause a paling of the skin.

The digestive system and the salivary glands would also be closed down to increase our efficiency in our moment of need. These and other changes are made so when it comes to ‘Fight or Flight’, we are in a perfect state of readiness. The ‘fight or flight’ syndrome is essential when life is threatened.

So can you imagine what would happen if this safe-guard was put in to being without there being any apparent outlet. Well, first you would begin to feel less at ease, this could then and generally does lead on to physical symptoms.

The problem starts when these normal and useful reactions of anxiety are prolonged by negative thinking. As you may be able to visualize anxiety/stress can and does cause physical, or emotional problems (or both) the worst of these being heart disease. I do hasten to add here that although pains in the chest area are a typical symptom of anxiety, it would be very rare indeed to suffer a heart attack. However, having said that a recent study by US scientists for the Harvard Medical School have proved that stress and related problems are as likely to cause a heart attack as being overweight, smoking, or having high cholesterol.

Unfortunately most of the anxiety provoking situations nowadays do not require our bodies to prepare for a fight or a 2 mile chase down the high street. However, these physical and chemical changes can occur in situations that are not life threatening, or require vigorous activity. Examples could be: going to the supermarket, catching a bus, looking after someone who is unwell, or having to many things to do in what appears to be a day with not enough hours in it. These are just a few of the everyday activities that can trigger our defences into action. Even just thinking a situation could be threatening can set it into motion.

Coping Strategies

When someone is faced with these feelings of anxiety or a panic attack they may use similar strategies to the ones listed below:

  • Blaming Oneself.
  • Leave The Situation.
  • Seeking Help From Other People.
  • Seeking Medical Help.

Anxiety/Stress therefore are powerful human emotion with both positive and negative potential. Once the danger has passed the body, should then return to whatever would be normal for you.

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