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What Exactly Is Anxiety?

Anxiety, whether mild or severe, affects your thoughts, emotions, and physiology with symptoms such as ruminative worry, muscular tension, headaches, insomnia, poor concentration, fatigue, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, diarrhea, constipation, and so on. From a Self-Coaching perspective the one thing all expressions of anxiety have in common is a feeling that you or your life is out of control. It’s this loss of control that creates an overwhelming sense of apprehension, insecurity, and fear accompanied by marked physiological and psychological changes. Anxiety essentially revs up your mind and body in an attempt to protect you from perceived harm.

I remember being alone on a fossil dig at a strip mine in North Carolina, where I accidentally found myself sinking in a marl-like quicksand. When I was up to my thighs and still sinking, everything about my usual consciousness shifted. Aware only of my rapid, shallow breathing, I spread my upper body flat on top of a digging rake I had fortunately taken along. With strength I have never felt before or since I used my upper body muscles to remain splayed out on my rake while simultaneously pulling my legs free from the marl’s incredible suction. Slowly I advanced. After about a ten-minute struggle that seemed like ten years, I reached the more stable ground and collapsed, completely exhausted. I was absolutely depleted and for quite some time unable to slow down my pulse or my breathing.

And here’s my point. As intense as my experience was, I can tell you I’ve had patients who, suffering from intense anxiety, panic, or phobias, describe virtually the same reaction–without the quicksand! The reason for this is really quite simple: anxiety doesn’t differentiate between real danger and imagined danger. If, for example, you interpret an IRS audit as the end of the world, then your body will respond in the only way it knows how–fight-or-flight, all or nothing, do or die. All it takes is distorted, insecurity-driven thinking to get your adrenal glands to start pumping stress hormones into your blood stream. And once anxiety begins, it can become one hell of a steamroller.

The Relationship Between Worry And Anxiety

Worry (the anticipation of things going wrong) and anxiety are intimately related. Not all worrying leads to anxiety, but all anxiety begins with and is sustained by worry. Suffice it to say that worrying, in the form of doubts, fears, and negatives, if unchecked, can become both a trigger for anxiety as well as its sole source of energy.

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