Anxiety is a natural and evolutionary part of your genetic make up, it is your body's automated response to fear and danger. However...
Your body cannot tell the difference between real or perceived fear, therefore it is possible to 'think' yourself into anxiety by 'believing' you are in danger, when in fact you are not... so, how much anxiety do we cause ourselves? Furthermore, why are we doing it and how can we stop?
To try and bring this to life, imagine being faced with a fully grown hungry tiger, this is definitely something one should fear, in this particular example neither flight or fight is likely to work, you can't outrun the tiger and you certainly can't win in a physical fight against it (although I am sure there are a few brothers out there who would claim they could!)
Either way in this example, the danger is real, and your response is automatic. It's hard wired, the likely outcome and best chance of survival would be to run for your life. (Note of advice: Tigers can run faster than humans, climb trees and swim so in all likely hood you are doomed, but running is still more preferable than a fist fight!)
In order to attempt run for your life from the tiger, you're going to need every advantage you can get, every ounce of speed, power, courage and stamina you can possibly muster, just to give yourself a chance.
Enter anxiety and the sympathetic nervous system.
Anxiety is a physiological reaction to fear
You've seen the tiger, he has seen you (he is licking his lips), in a heartbeat your pupils dilate to let in more light, adrenaline is pumped into your bloodstream from your adrenal glands, cortisone (a stress hormone) is also delivered into your system - shutting down your immune system - no wasted energy here for protecting you from a virus - the tiger is the immediate threat, your muscles tense ready to go into action, your heart rate increases, your breath becomes more rapid, your saliva secretion is inhibited...and you run...
You may also freeze or fawn as there are 4 possible responses, these two will almost certainly end in being a tigers breakfast, so we are sticking to flight or flight here to make the point.
Even with all these marvellous strategies your body automatically gives you without a seconds thought (maybe your body is a form of intelligence all on its own...), the chances are you run, and still end up breakfast for Tigger.
On a more serious note...
Whilst it's clear this automated response from your sympathetic nervous has it's uses and is designed to keep you alive, it's not doing you much good if it's always active, because you believe (worry) that a tiger is just around the corner, or your environment may suggest there is going to be one. This is sometimes called hypervigilance, which is also a symptom of PSTD, and common in people who have suffered abuse.
For some people anxiety becomes a state of being (in clinical terms it's called a disorder). Simply meaning one is always in a state of anxiety.
Given what we now know about the sympathetic nervous system and your fight or flight response, you can see how being anxious ALL the time is a a recipe for being physically sick. Being pumped full of of stress hormones, being on alert causing heart palpitations and rapid breathing (panic attacks) are all reasons why anxiety feels debilitating for many people and brings "their fears to life".
In the UK alone we issue over 10's of millions of prescriptions every year for anxiety, post COVID this has continued to rise and show no signs of slowing down, children as young as five are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Whilst the tiger example may be a little tongue in cheek to highlight what happens to the body when anxious, it's no joking matter.
At Breakthrough we take it very seriously, we have been there too, when it feels like a tiger is around every corner, so we send you love, and hopefully some good advice on how you can start to tackle anxiety yourself, to give yourself an edge in your battle against anxiety and to take back control of your thoughts, thus reducing anxiety attacks, and as a consequence improving your physical health and emotional wellbeing.
We want our body to react when we are in immediate threat, (and even if you wanted to change that part, you couldn't as it is genetically wired into your DNA).
But what about all the times the tiger isn't real, what about all the times we THINK there is a tiger, or we are reminded (triggered) by our environment that there MIGHT be a tiger coming?
Well, your body reacts in the same way, but what if you could use something to counter it, something that you could 'switch on' that countered the affects of anxiety, something that helped you ground yourself, re-calibrate and get back to centre, something you could call upon when you notice or feel that anxiety has entered the building?
Well there is...
Enter the parasympathetic nervous system...and enter conscious breathing...