Although general feelings of anxiety and panic can arise from out of the blue for many anxiety sufferers their condition has built up over time. The reason for this progression in anxiety is related to things like life stress, genetics, brain chemistry (controversial), and your environment.
Once a person becomes anxious it is very easy for them to slip into a constant state of worry and anxiety. I’ve heard the progression of an anxiety disorder explained and described in many different ways but there is one explanation that I encountered some years ago that makes the most sense and I want to share it with you.
Essentially the very act of being panicked or extremely anxious can shock you so to speak. For example, say you had an anxiety attack, something that you have never had before, after such an event your nervous system can become highly sensitized. This sensitization then makes future anxiety episodes and general feelings of anxiety more likely.
But it’s just not the sudden arrival of anxiety that can sensitize a person, anxiety can also take hold gradually as a result of emotional issues or negative past experiences. The reasons why one becomes anxious are endless, but what is more clear and important is what happens to a person once they enter an anxious state of being.
The building blocks of anxiety disorders are based on a few key things, namely confusion, fear, sensitization, suggestibility, apathy and depression. These feelings and thoughts build up over time and fortify each other to create a heightened state of anxiety.
Now when you look it at this way it makes sense because it seems that over time things do go from bad to worse to just o.k. and back to bad. It is a never ending cycle that always seems to lead to new symptoms, new thoughts, new things to be anxious about.
My notion of this came by reading the works of Dr. Claire Weekes. The late Dr. Weekes was an Australian medical doctor that spent over forty years of her life treating patients with anxiety. During that time she learned that many of her patients showed many of the same symptoms and thought patterns and she became very familiar with almost all of them.
Her ideas of what allows anxiety to grow are to me some of the most straight forward and easy to understand ideas about anxiety that there are. It really is not a mystery, anxiety builds overtime.
1. Confusion: This is the beginning stage of most anxiety disorders. You get bombarded by all kinds of weird symptoms and thoughts and usually seek the advice of a doctor. Since anxiety is not always diagnosed immediately it could be some time before a person finds out that they are not crazy, but in the meantime they become confused about what they have, why they have it and how they can make it stop.
2. Fear: Fear enters the picture when a person is confused, the unknown in the form of physical symptoms can be alarming and throw you into a state of panic and fear.
3. Sensitization: This is by far the most critical part of anxiety development. This is when the body and mind become hypersensitive to every single bump, pop, or other irregularity concerning the body or mind. When you become sensitized panic and anxiety come easy and it doesn’t lift quickly.
4. Suggestibility: This means that after becoming sensitized an anxious person may start to believe the frightening thoughts their having. Anxious people may become more susceptible to self destructive behavior and thoughts. They may also develop fears of getting worse, going crazy and never recovering to live a normal life.
5. Apathy: A feeling of passivity and indifference can build over time as the anxious person sees no light at the end of the tunnel. Their passion for life, fun activities, and even positive emotions may leave them almost entirely. After a while people just get tired of being scared all the damn time and shut down.
6. Depression: The feeling of helplessness, worthlessness, and deep sadness. This is more than just feeling blue this is a clinical state of sadness that can lead to many health and mental problems if left untreated.
Now that we’ve gotten through that depressing list of catastrophic mental legos let’s look at the positive in all this. You might ask yourself is there even a positive to this? There is and that is that if anxiety can be constructed vertically as it were than it can also be deconstructed.
Now demolishing what may have taken you years to build will not be easy and will be lined with obstacles, but it is achievable. Look at the list, from number 6 to 1 and in your own mind think of ways that you can undo them.
If you came up with any possibilities than I hope you can see how this can be reversed. Now I’m not suggesting a magic cure and in fact I’m not sure anxiety disorders can be cured at all. However, I know that there are things that we can do to improve our quality of life, to re-enter the social world and to be less afraid more of the time, for me this is the goal.
In terms of solutions, of which there are hundreds, there are a few that work better than others. A good place to start is in your mind - inside your reaction to panic to be exact.
Generally speaking when anxiety comes it comes in two waves. The first wave is the one you can’t control, the one that comes from nowhere and the second wave is all the stuff you add to the first one. This second wave is usually started in your head by words like, “Oh no, Oh s**t, not again, I’m going to die” etc.
If you practice calming this second wave then you will make great progress in reducing the anxiety you feel when you become anxious or panicked. This will ideally lead to a desensitization of your overactive nervous system.
In addition there is vigorous exercise, healthy eating, therapy, vitamins and supplements, and for some medications. There is no one size fits all so you’ll have to tinker with what works for you.
Ultimately though you should simply be aware of the fact that although we can’t always control anxiety we can certainly change how we react to it, how we think about it. This is crucial knowledge for anyone who is sick and tired of being anxious, exhausted, and worried all the time.
It’s not to say that anyone adds fear or anxiety to their life on purpose either. Sometimes anxiety just comes automatically with no thought or provocation on our part. But it happens, anxiety just happens and we have to try and do what we can to reduce it’s hold on us.