Anxiety is common, affecting a large proportion of the population. It can manifest itself in lots of different conditions: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias and panic attacks. The feelings and symptoms of anxiety all come from a natural biological reaction to a stressful stimulus: the “fight or flight response”. The fight or flight response is an evolutionary adaption to allow animals to run or to fight in the face of danger; imagine a sabre toothed tiger!
The fight-or-flight response was evolutionarily designed for when we came into contact with dangerous predators, such as tigers!
It is caused by the release of adrenaline and other chemicals which prepare the body for action: increasing the blood flow to the lungs and muscles by making the heart beat faster and stronger and heightening mental arousal. This results in the feelings of panic and doom which are associated with anxiety as well as the physical symptoms of palpitations and a racing pulse. This evolutionary response is great when there is a sabre toothed tiger, but when your body is reacting this way to crowds, catching the tube and going out with friends it can make you feel exhausted, stressed and irritable.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety in situations where it seems inappropriate, or if you feel stressed and on-edge all of the time, you may benefit from trying to control the flight or fight response, trying to modify when you have the response, or trying to control your feelings and thoughts in response to it.
If you’re feeling this fight-or-flight sensation in response to normal daily activities, such as taking the tube, this could be a sign of anxiety.
There are other presentations of anxiety which are often overlooked: muscle tension and pain, tiredness and low mood. Tiredness can be a serious problem with anxiety as your body is working in a constantly aroused state, and it can be very difficult to sleep with a constant stream of anxious thoughts and feelings. Equally muscle tension and pain in the shoulders, jaw and neck can be a presentation of anxiety. The worried thoughts and feelings of anxiety can also bring your mood down, and lots of people suffer with low mood as well as anxiety.
To think about anxiety some people find it helpful to break it down into thoughts, feelings and physical responses. These are often hard to distinguish from each other and can feed into each other. For example if you think about a time when you felt anxious, you may get some of the same feelings and physical responses you had at the time. It can be helpful in keeping a diary of the triggers of your anxiety and how it makes you feel and think at the time.
Anxiety is very common, and this means that there is lots of support available. So if you think you are suffering from anxiety, please do not hesitate to book in for a GP consultation at London Doctors Clinic. All of our GP’s are experienced in this area of mental health, and are more than happy to see patients struggling with anxiety, affecting their quality of daily living. In a 15-minute GP appointment, the doctor will do a thorough assessment and may be able to recommend talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exercise groups or medication to help manage anxiety. One of the important things to remember is that everyone will experience this fight-or-flight response and feel anxious sometimes, but there is lots of help available to help you learn to control it.
By Ruth Laurence-King