Anxiety is a complex emotional response that’s similar to fear. Both arise from similar brain processes and cause similar physiological (rapid heart rate, breathing disturbances or ‘heart in mouth’ feeling) and behaviour reactions (fight, fight or flee).
The thing that’s always made me curious about anxiety and fear (I regularly got them mixed up) is that fear is typically associated with a clear, present and identifiable threat, whereas anxiety occurs in the absence of an immediate threat.
Have you ever really thought it? Fear and anxiety are so closely related that we regularly confuse them. We feel fear when we are actually in trouble, like when a car over takes on the opposite side of the road and is coming directly towards you. We feel anxiety when we have a sense of dread or discomfort but at the moment, we are in no immediate danger.
Everyone experiences fear and anxiety; it’s a part of every day life and an evolutionary adaption (fear and anxiety probably kept your ancestor alive thousands of years ago –if you didn’t feel those emotions, you were likely to be eaten by someone higher on the food chain) – however all it does now is make us miserable and unhappy.
As someone who could go from very relaxed state to ‘super anxious’ in the space of time it would take a coin to hit the floor – anxiety has always been something that’s fascinated me; we tend to be interested in the things that affect us personally, for example, if you have never had an issue with anxiety, you are very unlikely to be reading this post.
Have you ever had a roof over your head, food in the cupboards, a 9-5 job and still worried about not having enough money in your bank account? I know I have.
Have you ever seen friends in loving relationships and think ‘I’m never going to meet someone?’ – yeah been there too.
How about, have you ever felt just ‘off’ for no reason other than you don’t feel right; you just feel on edge but everything in your life is perfectly fine (this got me for years until I better understood nutrition and its affect on my central nervous system).
This isn’t fear, you are in no immediate threat. This is anxiety.
This is why your dog is happier than you!
Alongside cutting foods that sent my body into severe ‘fight or flight’ mode and made me edgy for days – dairy, wheat, sugar etc., the biggest thing that has supported me is knowing what was actually happening to my brain when I started to feel this way.
You’re possibly familiar with the new cortex- the ‘thinking part’ of the brain – its what separates humans from other species – it enables us to use reason, create language and envision the future.
Have you ever wondered why your dog gets happy every single time they see you? Dogs and other animals haven’t developed the part of the brain that allows them to ‘picture the future’ so when they see you- they are completely present every single time – they’re not worried about when you will go again, if they are getting food that day or any other scenario that may or may not happen.
Although developing our neo cortex has allowed us to build civilisations and create things beyond our wildest dreams; the trade off is sometimes we lack ‘being present’ – or being in the actual moment because we are thinking about the future (and 9 out of 10 times, its normally worrying about something- work the next day, paying our bills etc.). This is the foundation of all anxiety.
Fear is an immediate threat; anxiety is thinking about a potential threat. There are cases where there is a genuine hormonal disruption and several of these people find western medicine great for their anxiety but for a lot of us, its something we can control ourselves.
I love the quote ‘worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but you never get anywhere’. As someone who would be fine for several days at a time and get hit with a wave of anxiety like a ‘brick to the head’ – there are a few things that have massively supported me so I’ll share them below in the hopes that they support you.
1) Recognise the source of anxiety
‘Find the source, fix the problem’ – for some of us, it is as simple as cutting the source of anxiety – for me, there were certain people in my life who just made me feel ‘off’ – I felt more insecure around them and even though I called them ‘friends’ – in truth, they weren’t.
Here is the test for it; are there people in your life who you feel worse after having hung out or spoken with them. You may have been having a great day and they brought you back to ‘reality’ or you may have been having a bad day and they brought you even lower.
If there are people in your life that make you feel this way, I recommend minimising your time with them or in my case, cutting them completely. Sometimes it’s as simple as: find the people that make you feel happy, spend more time with them. Find the people that make you feel unhappy, spend less time with them.
2) Train, exercise or meditate
This was a bit of catch 22 for me; for years – I used the gym and training as an outlet so it always put a Band-Aid over the real problem. If I felt on edge, I never dealt with it or asked myself ‘who or what was making me feel this way?’- I just went to the gym. I was effectively ‘self medicating’ with exercise. In my opinion it’s actually the best way to reduce short and long term anxiety- but its imperative to do step one and then use training, exercising and meditation as a way to support you and not band-aid over the real problem.
3) Don’t eat foods that make your anxiety worse!
This really could have been number 1. I had such lack of self-awareness in my early twenties that I never added two and two together with how eating certain foods had a direct affect on my mood.
Knowing now how certain food can send your body into a spiral of ‘fight or flight’ (especially those that your body is intolerant or allergic to- additives, flavourings etc)- I’ve largely eliminated them and very rarely get any physiological based anxiety issues any more (i.e. nervous and anxious for no apparent reason) – if you find that you are getting edgy and anxious for no reason- its not about money, a relationship or a job, you just feel ‘off’ – then I highly recommend having a look at your nutrition and seeing if there are foods that are causing you to feel this way.