Many of us feel the need to be in control. It’s reassuring to know that we’ve got a handle on a situation, but unfortunately, it’s not always possible to be in control 100% of the time. Especially for people who suffer with anxiety, this is a difficulty. After all, a lot of our anxious thoughts can come from worrying about hypothetical futures or over analysing past events that we can’t change – it’s based in a fundamental feeling of not having control.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause A Feeling Of Losing Control?
When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode our caveman, survival-based brain takes over, temporarily shutting down our newer, rational prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that looks after decision making, problem solving and evaluation. So, when this part of the brain is out of action, we’re acting solely on instinct, and if you’ve been suffering from anxiety for a while, rightly or wrongly, you probably won’t trust your own judgement that much. This means the prospect of losing control and losing the ability to meticulously analyse decisions causes much more anxiety, thus exacerbating your physical fight, flight or freeze symptoms.
When we’re in this survival mode, our body seemingly acts out on its own with our heart racing, our breathing increasing, our muscles tightening – it feels as if we don’t even have control of our own body, let alone anything else. This can be a worrying feeling for anyone who suffers with anxiety, but it is very common.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and allow it to become deeper and longer. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational brain to kick back in and regain a semblance of control.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.