We all worry and feel scared from time to time, after all, we’re only human, but when we struggle with anxiety, it can seem to happen more often and last for longer, even if we can’t put a finger on the trigger. This sense of fear might feel like danger is around every corner, or that you’re lacking control, or that you’re helpless. These are all common feelings and sensations when we’re talking about anxiety.
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 Me To Feel Afraid?
When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and our brain releases stress hormones and chemicals, our system gets hyperstimulated. This means that our senses are heightened, we’re more alert to everything and even the slightest sensation feels much bigger and more important than it normally would. This combined with the sudden release of stress hormones creates a powerful landscape for fear and panic.
Our physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, hyperventilation and an increase in body temperature seemingly reinforce the negative belief that there is a perceived threat around the corner, even if that’s true and we’re just nervous or embarrassed or apprehensive. When this happens, our brain has a sense of validation and the symptoms last for longer.
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 and feel the black cloud lift.
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.