Understanding anxiety

Anxiety is sometimes called ‘the modern disease’ (or at least when I was a twenty-something poet I liked to think so). In fact this is not true. Chronic anxiety, according to a consensus of studies, only affects about 16% of the population.

The reason many of us think Anxiety is more common than it is, is that we get it mixed up with Fear. But Anxiety is not an emotion – it is a symptomatic state. Fear is an emotion.

Bodymind creates a fear response when we are confronted with an immediate danger that requires action on our part. It is a strong, visceral, emotion and we are being aroused to do something about the problem in that moment – find out more about it, talk to others, get help, do something about the situation. As we swing into action the emotion dissolves.

Anxiety is created by Headmind and relates to situations that have either not happened yet, or future situations we are worrying about. Anxiety comes up when we avoid taking action, dwelling instead on the ‘disaster movies’ Headmind cooks up for us. The symptomatic state that ensues – chest constriction, gut changes, sweating, rapid heart-beat, panic – is a warning that we are spending too much time in our Heads, thinking about the problem rather than getting involved. In fact, as research often shows, worries rarely come true.

Anxiety worsens with avoidance. The more Headmind worries about what will happen to us the more ‘obvious’ it seems to stay away from situations. Unfortunately, the more we stay away, the worse the anxiety gets, as Headmind has more unknown problems to feed on.

This difference can be clearly seen in shyness. Shy people are not fearful, they are anxious. They get trapped in the heads worrying about what people will think of them, of having nothing to say and drying up, of being rejected, etc. The remedy is to get some coaching and learn how to slowly make social situations easier. But avoiding society will only make the problem worse.

Sometimes fear and anxiety go together (now it gets really subtle!). So – we can be scared when we receive a tax bill and when that happens we are being motivated to talk to people who can help us find a solution. And we can also get anxious – a sure sign that we are avoiding action and hallucinating calamity. So when your tax bill arrives at the end of this month be sure to have your bank manager’s phone number handy.

 

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