Anxiety can be a powerful experience that feels uncomfortable for many people.
It is that “sick to the stomach, heart racing” feeling of dread you experience when you are about to step onto a stage and give a speech in front of hundreds of people, or perhaps when you are about to write that all-important exam that holds the promise of a new career or even a job interview. Anxiety makes us feel numerous physical symptoms that are a signal that something is about to change, that something is happening, and you need to pay attention.
Anxiety is like an internal alarm system that tells us we need to pay attention.
Although having feelings of anxiety can be extremely uncomfortable, they are feelings that are completely normal and in fact, everyone feels anxiety from time to time. Being able to feel anxiety can actually be a good thing even though when we are in the throes of anxiety, we may beg to differ.
We may experience several physical symptoms when we are experiencing anxiety.
Common symptoms include feeling hot or cold, a racing heart, dry mouth, shakiness or trembling, and an upset stomach. If we are not aware of why we are feeling these physical feelings, we might become alarmed and begin to want to stop the feelings at all costs.
Imagine that anxiety is like the smoke detector in your home.
Having a smoke detector is good, in fact having a smoke detector is often mandatory. It too is an alarm system that tells you to “Pay attention- some action may be needed”. All too often though, the smoke detector, that is meant to warn you that your house is on fire, is simply telling you that someone has burned the toast, or that the oatmeal cookies in the oven have been in the oven too long and are burning. So if the smoke detector is meant to warn you of a fire, and it’s going off whenever someone burns toast, is it working properly? Well, of course, the answer is “yes”, the smoke detector is, in fact, working very well and is simply a highly sensitive alarm that warns us even before any action is necessary.
So we can take comfort with the thought that the feelings we have when we are anxious are normal, it might even help to think of them as your personal “smoke detector”. Simply changing the way you view your anxiety might even reduce these feelings.
At this point, however, you may be asking “Is that it? I just start thinking of my anxiety as an alarm?” If this idea leaves you feeling frustrated, annoyed or curious, you may find it helpful to continue reading about “fight and flight” and “mental spam” in upcoming blog posts.