What is the difference between natural, normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder?

Normal Anxiety Vs Anxiety Disorder

Natural apprehension or anxiety is a regular feature of life and we are all different in the way in which we respond to it. It can be seen in human behaviour how some people accept similar tense situations easily whereas others can be very uncomfortable. It is however a very important and normal part of human behaviour although, seemingly, more of us are experiencing it more often in our modern society. Why is there such a wide variation in how people respond to similar situations? And at what point does normal anxiety become an anxiety ‘disorder’?

Anxiety 

Anxiety is a normal natural physiological response to perceived fear. To most people it is an ‘uneasy, very uncomfortable feeling’, an unexplained tension, anticipation or suspense either about something specific or vague, real or imagined.

It is not a disease state but should be seen as a normal driving force by the body to launch an increase in the alerting influence. In doing so it heightens awareness, increases perception and anticipation.

Natural Anxiety

Anxiety differs from fear. To fear something means you are generally aware of what it is, such as a lion on the loose. When you are anxious, very often you do not know specifically what causes it. This can lead to a feeling of confusion, apprehension and loss of control.

Fear is caused by an identified external source of danger. A state of alarm caused by a physical thing, of physical pain or the likelihood of something unwelcome happening.

Anxiety is the state of being anxious. It is having concern about imminent danger, giving a feeling of excessive unease. It is mind centred, dwelling on an ill perceived outcome.

This feeling can be overwhelming because it affects us both psychologically and behaviourally which results in altered thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms.

Anxiety can therefore be vague and difficult to understand, but its true biological role is to enhance our senses to protect us from potentially harmful situations, by alerting us to a perceived threat. It is a response to our judgement and interpretation of situations and circumstances that produces the anxious results within us.

Such emotional states are generated to current experiences in a part of the brain called the Limbic system which acts in concert with stored memories from previous experience. It follows that if we can provide ourselves with suitable ‘exposure’ experiences we will have safer memories on which to draw and such exposure, as we will see later, is a worthy exercise to exploit.

Anxiety Disorder

The term ‘Anxiety Disorder’ covers a range of conditions which stem from a generalised state of  anxiety.

The term ‘Disorder’ can be separated from normal anxiety by:

a) its intensity (how acute it is)

b) its duration (how chronic it is)

c) whether it leads to normal life being disrupted

Avoidance (very important to avoid!)

While most people naturally feel nervous before attending a job interview, entering a social situation or meeting new people, some may feel an overwhelming  sense of anxiety and therefore seek to avoid such situations. Such avoidance signifies that it is disruptive to life.

Such behaviour may persist to become a ‘habit ‘ and eventually lead to an avoidance of leaving the safety of the home. This will naturally affect one’s ability to enjoy and thrive in life and it is then termed a ‘disorder’.

Types of Disorder

There are a number of different types of disorder although the following are most common:

Disorder 1

Disorder 2

disorder 3

disorder 4

While some believe that stress and anxiety in modern day life has become over-diagnosed and medicalised, life seems to provide an ever increasing rate of change and subsequent anxiety we all face. The nervous system helps us in adapting and responding to these changes; it is a protective mechanism. But, for some of us such changes bring an overactive nervous system response and we feel the uncomfortable and excessive symptoms associated with it. From these small beginnings if such changes in one’s life are continually faced it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid and ignore.

It is normal to frequently feel anxious or stressed in response to life, although it’s important to recognise when negative patterns develop and try to prevent disorders developing, or to address them should they emerge.

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Into the blue. Where on earth do anxiety disorders come from? Part two

Where do they come from pt 2
WHY ME?

Should we be surprised when anxiety strikes? If so is it valid to question; ‘Why me’?
It may also be useful to consider the type of person you are – your context – family origins, how you have progressed through life and the environment in which you find yourself. And therefore: ‘Am I the type of person to be living the type of life I’m living’?Let’s look closer at the circumstances and the person that ‘you’ are.
We are a complex mix of factors. These have commonly been termed: ‘Inherited’, ‘Conditioning’ and ‘Maintaining’ factors.

INHERITED FACTORS

There are facts in life which we cannot ignore. The greatest of these is the fact that you have biological parents from which you inherit traits; good and bad. While the overall evidence of anxiety being inherited is inconclusive it is undeniable that we inherit a great deal of our makeup from our parents.
BIOLOGICAL PARENTS
Parental influence passes to children through the genes. Personality is shaped by the two complementary components of heredity and the environment. The genetic endowment via chromosomes from each parent will define a child’s mental and physical  characteristics. These are modified, matured and influenced by exposure to environmental effects. In the growing child, the influence of home and family are of supreme importance.
Parents influence children in developing their beliefs and conduct which can shape their future behaviour – through ‘upbringing’. When a child sees a parent responding with alarm or fear at a particular event or accident it can be expected the child will copy that response too, seeing it as the appropriate way to respond. This biological behaviour is seen widely in nature where the offspring copy parents closely in learning how to survive in their world.
Interestingly identical twins who carry a familial tendency to anxiety, even when brought up separately with dissimilar parents and under those parental controls, can still exhibit an inherited tendency to anxiety as depicted by their (affected) biological  parents. There is also a similarly strong inherited link to agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces).

Factors contributing to anxiety disorders

CONDITIONING FACTORS

Anxiety disorders are said to be ‘taught conditions’. In this respect we are often conditioned to become fearful of certain objects or environments through false belief. Our parents can play a flawed but important role in the development of this.
For example, in terms of upbringing, parents may have been excessively cautious and overprotective in their view of the world being a dangerous place, or set standards too high for children to achieve. However well meaning, they may also belittle interests or suppress self assertiveness in the quest to provide good guidance.
This can lead people to lose self-confidence, fear the world – often without reason – or to believe that offspring cannot achieve a specific goal, or they may even resent trying due to fear of failure.

MAINTAINING FACTORS 

‘Maintaining causes’ are the influences in life which tend to perpetuate anxiety; the way an individual thinks, how they feel and how they cope with life’s events. These are best dealt with by avoiding anxious self talk, mistaken beliefs, withheld feelings and lack of self belief and the trigger factors which set anxiety in motion and which is referred to in the programme.
Becoming more established as an adult we ‘maintain’ our thoughts, beliefs and behaviour. The ‘conditioning process’ develops negative or positive patterns of thought, feelings and behaviour and can sustain our anxious feelings and contribute to the development of an anxious disorder.

ENVIRONMENT AND WELLBEING

A child’s progress is also geared to environmental factors that play a significant part in their conditioning; school and teacher relationships, parental pressure, love and security, success or the acceptance of failure are all contributors to development of the individual’s personality.
The experience of education and the friendships (and enemies) they make, the interaction with teachers, the nature of the locality where they live and the relationships they form in that locality all have an influence on wellbeing in positive and negative ways. It is through these and similar sources, such as being fearful of the school bully or certain teachers, that can generate anxiety from the immediate environment. So it can be seen that the accumulation of all these widely varying experiences contribute to how an individual interacts and responds with others and whether anxiety is generated through unpleasant historical causes.
Experiencing a number of negative experiences can lead to accumulation of anxiety and result in the beginning of a ‘disorder’.

Examples of Maintaining Factors are:

Withheld feelings

These are the inner catalogue of what we think of the issues around us. They can be sufficiently strong to make us feel uneasy and, if those feelings are constantly suppressed, can add to the inner conflict and so shape anxiety. In childhood we may have been encouraged to suppress our feelings such as anger, irritation and annoyance. It’s best to aim to shake off this aspect of the past and rid your mind of the likely turmoil associated with it. That will ease the anxious pressures that can be built from it.
 

Anxious self talk

’Self talk’ is the convenient label put on the inner voice that is a constant presence in your mind, helping prepare you for future actions and reviewing and interpreting the events of the day. In doing so that ‘self talk’ voice helps in your decision making and action plans.
This remarkably helpful engine however – more often than not – operates with a negative influence; constructing views that make you feel less able than you should be. It’s more like a brake to your progress than a fresh gear to progress. So It’s very important to be aware of it and to influence its actions by ensuring that it engages in positive thoughts, not negative ones. By practice you can change the balance of your inner self talk and so avoid a possible slide into anxiety.
 

Stress

As someone suffering from anxiety or panic disorder you may still be surrounded by a life full of stressful circumstances and which contribute to and maintain your current state. From this you are very likely to feel confused and puzzled by what to do and which way to turn to limit its effects. One of the important items that you can and should do to reduce the stress around you is to re-visit the choices that you make within your lifestyle. As we have mentioned in a previous blog there is an established link between lifestyle and anxiety and making better choices can alter your situation for the better.

Mistaken beliefs and a lack of purpose in life

How we feel about our own place in society and the value of what we consider we ‘contribute’ to fellow humans can be a source of real stress and which, if left un-resolved can be anxiety promoting. Self-defeating thoughts are any negative views you hold about yourself. A lack of purpose reflects one’s self esteem – whether we value or feel negatively influenced by what we do in life includes personal achievement, ‘status’, the job that we do, it’s value to others etc. Nobel prize winners have made major contributions to the welfare of mankind; but we cannot all be Nobel winners. Even some of those who do so are pleasantly modest about their achievements.

This state however can be a reservoir of sustained anxiety and self-training to overcome some of the basic fears associated with it becomes necessary. Such states often arise from childhood shyness and by slowly reducing its effects through experience – often found in the workplace – is sometimes sufficient to reduce or eradicate it. This state is not a result of any lack of IQ, or of inherited factors for they are simply a state of mind and can be altered by achieving refreshed mental skills largely as a result of thinking in a positive way rather than in a negative way. To correct this thinking process look for and find the things that you are good at and make them a more dominant feature in your life.
There are identified sources of maintained anxiety from this state; about behaving in a way that makes others confirm one’s inadequacy. Concern that any success achieved may not be sustained with the resulting rejection through incompetence producing the endless fear that it brings.
Such fears can be dissolved by developing a more positive mental outlook and each incremental gain will contribute to a fresh awareness of one’s value thereby relieving the associated anxiety.

High alcohol intake

Longstanding stressful situations almost invite the use of alcohol as a relieving process but with the real possibility of longer term over-usage and dependence. Many a reputation has been lost through this process. Far from helping to eliminate it, alcohol maintains a contribution to anxiety. For good reasons it should be, it must be, avoided.

Poor lifestyle

This concerns the choices that are made on: friends, food, drink, work, alcohol, exercise, sleep, tobacco and any drug use. Cumulatively the choices that we make throughout each day construct our Wellbeing Framework and that is a very important health characteristic. What we do each day, the outside influences upon us, the people we associate with, what we watch on TV, what we read, who we may identify as a ‘role model’, the films we watch, what we eat all form a part of who we are and have a real impact on our lives, health and wellbeing.
This is part of our ‘conditioning’ and ‘maintaining’, and it affects our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviour, self image, the perception others have of us and of our own ability to feel in control. These factors can shape our future and contribute to maintaining anxiety or can be the corrective route out of it.
While many people know exactly why they are anxious and suffer panic attacks, others do not. And while it often doesn’t help to over-analyse yourself and your life, it can, and does, help to understand and accept yourself and to break down and identify the possible causes. You can then take corrective action.

Is there a link between lifestyle, wellbeing and anxiety?

Good Choice Bad Choice

Choice

The brief answer to this question is ‘yes’, there is an established link between lifestyle, wellbeing and anxiety. And the key to it is a simple and powerful word: choice.

The decisions we take in making choices can be pivotal in the life that we build for ourselves and the amount of anxiety we experience.

There are contributing factors to our anxiety levels that we cannot control. These are referred to as Inherited Factors; those complicated genetic aspects of us which we inherit from our family line. These are in addition to other Inherited Factors such as ‘conditioning’; being taught and brought up by our parents or those otherwise responsible for us as guardians.

While, to some extent, we have to accept these facts – who our parents are and how they raised us – we have the power to change the present and the future: of who we are and how we alter our exposure to stress and our anxiety levels.

Positive Lifestyle Choice (PLC) and Positive Wellbeing Framework (PWF)

Thought and choice should not be underestimated. It can strongly determine the direction we take in life, positively or negatively. Positive changes that we make in life can create circumstances, or an environment which may counteract any negative Inherited Factors. For example if, without realising  we were brought up to fear flying (through a parental fear of flying) we may face that fear, then learn the facts about air travel, learn about the aerodynamics of flying and eventually learn to fly ourselves. This interest may then become a passion developed through positive choices against the flow of fear.

Our lives develop singularly from our thought processes and the subsequent decisions and choices that we make. We can make a dramatic difference to the direction our lives take by being conscious of the relationship between thought and action.

Some of these choices may appear small, inconsequential and unimportant, but collectively, they coalesce to form a stream of thoughts and actions which construct our daily lives – our framework.  Once we become aware of our thoughts, we can begin to assess their importance and the influence and guidance they have over us.

So, accepting that we are shaped by the choices that we make, we can alter our lives quickly through reviewing our thinking and learning to say ‘yes’ where we would usually say ‘no’ and ‘no’ where we would say ‘yes’.

This is important because we can begin changing the quality of our lives with almost immediate effect whenever we chose to do so, simply by making different, beneficial choices.

Positive Lifestyle Choice (PLC) is an important part of creating balance. When you consider your lifestyle choices, how do they translate into your wellbeing framework?  Is there too much emphasis on one particular aspect, and insufficient emphasis on other areas? How much equilibrium do you think you have?

For example, do you socialise too much, or too little? Do you care about people too much and become too involved in their lives, or do you have little regard for others? Is your emphasis too great on economic values or too little?Positive Lifestyle ChoiceOur aim should be to seek balance through Positive Lifestyle Choices as this will transfer into a Positive Wellbeing Framework.

Avoiding Imbalance

Our Wellbeing Framework loses such balance if we consistently make poor choices. But in striving to achieve the best possible combination of elements in each area of our lives, over time, we can effectively correct a framework imbalance.

As control and balance are lost, anxiety levels can increase.  In the heady mix of over-active socialising, this often happens without it being realised.  Conversely, an imbalance in the social aspect of your framework which results in behaviour characterised by frequent and routine solitude, reclusiveness and social isolation, can have equally damaging effects on anxiety levels.

The medical action point for life is to ‘do everything in moderation’. So when we look into our Lifestyle – what and how much we eat, the exercise we take, the amount of alcohol we drink and every other activity that we do – this can contribute to our Wellbeing Framework; the personal state in which we live. Should that Framework become distorted , by an excess of one or more items over all the others, we develop an unbalanced state and from which we may become stressed.  Ultimately this can trigger concern within us and lead to anxiety. Being physically inactive, having a poor diet and smoking tobacco have all been associated with anxiety caused by these links. So Lifestyle and attaining correct  ‘Balance’ is of real importance.

POSITIVE LIFESTYLE CHOICE = POSITIVE WELLBEING FRAMEWORK = BALANCE = ANXIETY REDUCTION

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Where on earth do anxiety disorders come from?

Blog Template

Many of us can be carrying on with a normal life – or what we think is a normal life – and then seemingly ‘out of the blue’, our anxiety levels increase and we begin experiencing panic attacks. This can be a very confusing time only serving to increase the state of anxiety.

There is often a trigger to this which may include a particularly stressful life event such as:

  • the breakdown of a relationship
  • the loss of someone close to you
  • a bad experience using recreational drugs

Or a major change in life such as:

  • leaving home
  • becoming married
  • having a first child

While for some these triggers will be obvious reasons for anxiety, very often there are no triggers and you are left confused why anxiety levels are suddenly raised leading to panic attacks.

However, if we take a persons life in it’s complete context, anxiety rarely appears out of the blue and without foundation. It is an accumulation of inputs or experiences over time.

We are an accumulation of the following:

  • Perception: How we interpret our surroundings
  • Thought: The way in which we think
  • Psychology: How we respond to how we think
  • Physiology: What reaction is triggered in our body
  • Behaviour: How we react as a result

Sensory Input

While there is inconclusive research into whether we can inherit anxiety disorders from our parents, there is conclusive evidence to show that we can be taught to be anxious by our parents and then maintain it ourselves as we grow into adults – consolidating it over time subconsciously. When it has reached a certain point – which is different for everyone – anxiety levels rise to an unmanageable level.

By understanding and accepting this we can overcome it. We can identify associations between negative thought emotion and behaviour and reverse them.

 

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