Imagine walking up onto a stage to deliver a speech. Everyone in the room is staring at you, waiting for you to begin. Your heart is racing. You start sweating. Your breathing becomes quick – maybe too quick. You begin to feel lightheaded.
“Am I going to pass out?”, you ask yourself – “Sure, this is nerve-racking, but I’m not dying, so why do I feel so bad? Oh no, maybe I am dying. Am I going crazy?”
If you’ve experienced the above situation, you’ve experienced anxiety.
In this 3-part series, we will discuss what anxiety is and list some signs that suggest you may suffer from it. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should visit your doctor to discuss treatments and ways of dealing with stress. Make sure you check back in on our essential oil blog regularly!
Stress vs. Anxiety Disorder
Stress is a normal part of life while anxiety disorder is not, and it’s important to know the difference. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), stress is a response to a threat while anxiety is the reaction to stress.1 Ask yourself the questions below:
- Does the anxiety last even after the stressor disappears?
- Do I feel uneasy in general or is there a specific stressor I can label?
- Are my symptoms extreme?
- Does the anxiety impact my daily life or how I function? Am I beginning to avoid certain situations because of it?
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Understanding Anxiety: The Fight or Flight Response
Understanding how your symptoms are a learned response may help you when dealing with anxiety. When you’re dealing with stress or detect a “threat”, your body goes into what’s called the “fight or flight” mode. This means your body has two options: Fight the threat or flee from it. As soon as the fight or flight response is activated, an area of your brain called the hypothalamus releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are our body’s way of sending us into “survival mode” and lead to some of the most common anxiety symptoms, such as a pounding heart or sweaty palms.
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At first glance, the fight or flight response may seem like an overreaction to the most simple tasks we face on a daily basis, but in reality, this response is likely what kept the human race alive when humans had to face real physical dangers, like predators. Today, our fight or flight response is often triggered by “false alarms” as theorized by psychologist David H. Barlow of Boston University. Although most of us no longer have to worry about being eaten by predators, everyday situations can often feel just as threatening.
If we are able to deal with the stressful situation and move on, our bodies go back into their normal, calm state. However, unfortunately, once the response is triggered during a specific situation, it often becomes learned and may be triggered again when you encounter the same situation. This may eventually result in prolonged anxiety, such as a social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Even though we may logically understand that a social situation isn’t a real threat, our bodies have learned to react to it – you could say that anxiety is the result of a malfunctioning fight or flight response.
3 Major Ways Anxiety Can Affect You
- Thoughts – What we think or what we believe about a situation or fear
“If I go to the party, I’ll say something to embarrass myself and everyone will dislike me”
- Actions – How we behave towards our thoughts eg
Making up an excuse to avoid the party
- Physical symptoms – How our body physically responds
eg. Heart palpitations, nausea, and blurred vision