What is anxiety?

Anxiety seems to be on the rise in our society with more than 1 in 10 people likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ according to anxiety UK. And a much larger proportion of people are struggling with symptoms of anxiety every day.

A common theory to explain this increase is that anxiety is more socially acceptable now than in the past, meaning that more people are speaking out and making it ok to share how we feel. I certainly see this a lot and have noticed that anxiety is much more commonly discussed now than even just a few years ago. But I don’t think this accounts for all the increase.

In the past anxiety has been viewed as an illness and treated with medication, but there is a growing awareness that this may not be the whole truth. Of course there are people who benefit from being on medication to treat their anxiety but there are many other holistic treatments that can work wonders.

As you probably know, anxiety is caused by our nervous system going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our nervous system is very intricate and sophisticated, communicating with our brains and bodies and giving instructions on what to do. However, it was designed for simpler lives than the ones we’re leading now. Our nervous system was developed when we humans first came to be and our lives revolved around finding food, shelter and protecting our tribes. While that life probably wasn’t easy, it was straight forward. Most dangers were probably physical ones, that required us to fight or flee.

Fast forward a few thousand years, our nervous system hasn’t changed – but our modern lifestyles would probably be inrecognisable to the early humans. The ‘dangers’ we now face are usually not immediate physical threats, but rather small stressors like deadlines, work emails, arguments with loved ones etc. And as our nervous system hasn’t changed, these trigger us to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, even though there’s nothing concrete to fight or flee from.

When you think about it this way, it would appear that anxiety is not a pathology but rather a highly functioning nervous system. The problem is that our lives are often giving our nervous systems too much stimulation and triggering our ‘fight or flight’ instinct unnecessarily.

Other things that can play into this anxious response is our upbringing, unconscious beliefs and how connected we feel to other people. I will write more about this in next week’s blog. If you would like to receive this as well as future blogs straight to your inbox, please sing up to my news letter below. You will also be the first to be notified when my downloadable Coping with Anxiety – a holistic toolkit to bring back calm is available for purchase at the end of January.

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