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Anxiety is a chronic and exaggerated feeling of worry or tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke it.

Some anxiety is good for us and helps us to perform at our peak

However once we go past our peak higher levels of anxiety begins to lower our overall performance

People with anxiety may feel as if they are “on-edge” most of the time, unable to relax and enjoy pleasurable experiences because of persistent worry. Even when they have no real reason to worry or that their level of worry is out of proportion to the situation, they are unable to relieve themselves of their fears. At its most severe, just the thought of going through the day may provoke intense worry.

Some of the symptoms associated with anxiety:

  • Excessive worry for an extended period of time about a variety of situations
  • The sufferer finds it very difficult to control the tension and anxiety
  • Experiences physical signs of anxiety including restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances

What causes anxiety?

Research shows that anxiety can be caused by multiple factors: Learned behaviour, personality traits, abuse, trauma and negative experiences, mental and emotional stress, brain chemistry and genetics

  • Learned Behaviour
  • We learn to cope with emotional stress through observing family and friends. Growing up with people who respond to stressful situations with anxiety can influence how we will respond to such situations.

  • Personality Traits
  • Certain personality traits appear in the development of anxiety. Some common personality traits shared by those who suffer anxiety include low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, and inadequate coping skills.

  • Abuse, Trauma, and Negative Experiences
  • Anxiety can be triggered through the experience of a traumatic event. Abusive relationships, violent occurrences, and emotionally stressful situations such as an unstable home life can have an effect.

  • Mental and Emotional States
  • Anxiety disorders can co-exist with other mental and emotional issues such as substance abuse and depression.It is possible that suffering with one of these problems may contribute to feelings of anxiety.

  • Brain Chemistry
  • Research suggests that a chemical imbalance may be partly responsible for anxiety disorders.

  • Genetics
  • Anxiety disorders are often an issue for several members of the same family. This could be because of a hereditary predisposition towards an anxiety disorder.

Effects of Anxiety

Physical effects

Increased muscular tension, breathing rapidly, rising blood pressure, pounding heart. Changes to the blood supply affecting the digestive system may also cause nausea and sickness.

Psychological effects

Fear, heightened alertness, irritable, and unable to relax or concentrate. The way you think can be affected: you may fear the worst is going to happen and have a pessimistic outlook. You may steer clear of certain situations.

Thoughts have an impact on our behaviour. You may be unaware of automatic thoughts that provoke attacks. Thoughts happen quickly and may take the form of images and sensations, rather than words. The way we interpret things can cause extreme distress. But it is possible to bring about a state of wellbeing by changing habitual thought patterns.

“Fear of Fear” - Someone who has experienced anxiety in a certain situation may start to predict feeling anxious, and become frightened of the symptoms themselves.

Avoidance - once a vicious circle has developed with lots of anxious thoughts increasing the anxiety symptoms, avoidance is often used as a way of coping. It is natural to avoid something that is dangerous, but the sorts of things that people tend to avoid when they suffer from anxiety are most often not real dangers but busy shops, buses, crowded places, eating out, talking to people etc.

Panic attacks

Anxiety can take the form of a panic attack: a rapid build-up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding heart, feeling faint, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control, and legs turning to jelly. It can make people afraid that they are going mad or having a heart attack.

Coping with panic attacks

Panic attacks are likely to make you feel out of control; the victim of your bodily reactions and outside circumstances. The first step to recovery is recognising you have the power to control your symptoms.

Take control. Start by looking, in detail, at your panic attacks. When did they happen? Where were you? What were you thinking? See if you can identify particular thoughts that trigger a panic reaction.

Accept that a panic attack is unpleasant and embarrassing, but that it isn't life-threatening or the end of the world. By going with the panic, you are reducing its power to terrify you.

Creative visualisation and affirmations are techniques that may be helpful. Many people who suffer panic attacks have a vivid imagination, which they use to conjure up disaster, illness and death. You can re-train your imagination to focus on situations that give you a sense of wellbeing. You can use visualisation to focus on situations that you fear. Imagine the situation and speak positively to yourself: 'I am doing well', 'This is easy'.

Learn relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques focus on easing muscle tension and slowing down your breathing. It helps your mind to relax.

Breathing. Hyperventilation (over-breathing) commonly leads to panic attacks. Many people get into the habit of breathing shallowly, from the upper chest, rather than more slowly from the abdomen.

Treatment of Anxiety

Often it is helpful to engage in therapy to support the changes that need to be made; changes in our thinking, feelings and behaviour. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy have shown to be very helpful. Both these therapies focus on resolving emotional and behavioural problems and disturbances.

CBT is a therapy that predominantly looks at the ‘here and now’ – the problem today rather than looking too far back into history or childhood. It helps the client to understand the origin of the perceived threat and this ‘informs’ the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that deals with logic, inference, problem solving and planning). By challenging the client’s beliefs the amygdala is dampened down (the part of the brain that gives the rough and ready immediate responses that are not always appropriate). In addition new coping strategies for dealing with anxiety can be learned and the client can begin to enjoy a new life with reduced or normal levels of anxiety.


Nova Vida Recovery Centre
Algarve, Portugal
  (+351) 919357186

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