Have you ever suffered from the room suddenly becoming gigantic to you? Dizziness from lack of oxygen? Do you feel faint often, like being around any new person is horrible? Like your friends are plotting against you, or worrying whether people like you or not? That’s Anxiety!
Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some amount of anxiety is normal for everyone, such as being a little nervous before a test or when you meet someone new who you really like. Did you ever shake somebody’s hand and realize that your hand is kind of clammy? That’s anxiety. Although it can be uncomfortable, it is usually our body’s natural way to prepare for a stressful situation.
Our body is equipped with what’s called an autonomic nervous system. This controls many of the automatic functions of our body; our heart rate, breathing, and digestion. When we are faced with a situation which requires our body to respond, the autonomic nervous system changes these functions to deal with that situation. When we get scared, we may feel our heart beating faster or harder; this helps get the blood to the muscles in case they are needed. We may also feel our skin get cold or our hands get clammy. This is because skin is an organ and blood flow may be reduced to the body’s organs in order to increase the blood in the muscles. Your body may feel tense as the muscles prepare themselves and you may feel your breathing get deeper as more oxygen is required for your body at that time. These changes occur very quickly and take a lot longer to go back to normal.
When these physiological changes occur when they aren’t really needed, or they occur when they shouldn’t (such as when you are relaxed and suddenly feel nervous without anything in your environment changing), then anxiety may be a problem. Although these physiological symptoms are usually associated with anxiety and what has been called ‘anxiety attacks’ or ‘panic attacks,’ thoughts and emotions are also involved.
Thoughts, or cognitions, which can serve to bring about, increase, or result from an anxiety attack are different for everybody. Thoughts may be “I’m not good enough,” “I’m gonna fail this test,” “I look stupid,” or “It’s hopeless.” They are typically thoughts relating to something being wrong or about to go wrong, not being good enough, making a fool of ourselves, or fear that one of these things is going to happen. Emotions that occur with anxiety, which may also cause, increase, or result from the physiological symptoms are even more diverse. They can be feelings of embarrassment, fear, not being safe (both emotionally and physically), being alone, or feelings of being closed in (such as in claustrophobia).
Just as physical exercise such as running, playing football, or lifting weights can prepare our bodies for the next time we engage in these activities, certain exercises can prepare our bodies for stressful situations. The key to both is consistency. If we exercise regularly, we feel better, and activities are less strenuous because our bodies are ready.