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As humans, we search and learn about the world and ourselves, we are learning to better interrupt how and why we behave the way we do.

The data and observations we make allow us to classify actions, thoughts and feelings. We can now index many actions and behaviours we have, in some cases helping us know how to better react and manage complicated topics and issues. In some cases a ball and chain effect happens where once classified, an almost inescapable mindset is created. For example, someone being diagnosed with dyslexia.

The impression can become the individual can not spell and will always not be able to spell. Instead of focusing efforts to better accommodate the topic so the person better learns therefore still developing the ability to spell, it just may form at a later stage and need more specific stages to ensure success.

Something even leaders in research and practice must remember, we only know what we know and what we know may completely change in 1 or multiple years once we know more than what we know now. People can become hung up on what is, instead of pondering what may be, even if it may not seem doable there and then.

Anxiety and depression can often cycle or come in waves, singular or together. Both disorders characterised in a larger topic of mental health. The topic of ‘mental health’ often seems to leave a negative feeling in people’s minds. To be clear, mental health is the topic of understanding and improving the state of a person’s mind. Are they happy, positive, content and balanced with emotions and feelings? Or are they experiencing a higher percentage of more negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours?

Just as when a person may have an injured knee or have back dysfunction, for example, a mental health condition doesn’t make the person a bad person or some object that can not be remedied of their current thoughts and feelings. Like an injury or postural dysfunction all that is needed is a process to help identify causes, then a progressive pathway which helps the person learn and manage/eliminate the areas which may be causing the experienced problems.

How do you conquer a problem which initially feels unsolvable? In a very simple but effective way, all you need is a step by step process of learning, fact-finding, a trusting relationship followed by a strategy of how to gradually make changes to move towards the desired result. Finally allowing for a key ingredient, the ingredient most forget about but is crucial, time!

What is anxiety?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

What does it look and feel like?

  • restlessness, and a feeling of being “on-edge”
  • uncontrollable feelings of worry
  • increased irritability
  • concentration difficulties
  • sleep difficulties, such as problems in falling or staying asleep

Where does it come from?

Upbringings and interactions as a youth

Social up-bringing and personal experiences. The social groups and key people of influence may lead to mindsets and behavioural patterns which may then lead and breed the onset and maintenance of an anxious mindset. This may or may not involve physical and mental trauma.

A minor version may be a loving mother who always worries about the health and well being of her children. The associated characteristics of her worry can imprint behaviours and manners in dealing with situations and relationships that then repeat the same mindset and habits that lead to anxiety, and this can also be passed down to her children.

A more extreme example maybe some form of acute or chronic traumatic event or relationship which leaves emotional or physical damage. Without rehabilitation the problem leaves a figurative or literal scar that holds the person in the past, leading to all new decision-making being affected by past events.

Environmental anxiety

The tricky thing with this type of anxiety is the formation may happen at any time and it may be attributed to one factor or many factors coalescing to create an anxiety problem. The environment may be at school as a child or work as an adult, it may behind closed doors at home or on the way to work in rush hour. Environmental factors are sometimes easy to identify but tricky to change.

Prescribed drugs, recreational drugs, stimulants and alcohol

Any form of drug, be it pharmaceutically created, illegal, legal, or farmed to form a herbal alternative has the power to affect the endocrinological system and the neurological system. Both of which are heavily interwoven, a response in one will elicit a response in the other. It is for this reason many drugs and stimulants are taken. Heavy binge use or steady continual use can lead to hormonal and neurological changes in the body that can trigger or worsen anxiety. Both drugs and alcohol have been shown to change the function of the brain over time, often negatively. 

Routines and habits

Routines and habits can be the catalyst to the development of anxiety or they can be the binding agent that stops people from escaping the clutches of the feeling. For example, sleep is fundamental for the recovery of the physical body and mind. Countless studies coming in many forms have shown lack of sleep, broken sleep, even shifting sleep patterns can alter recovery and cognitive behaviours. Acute cases can cause temporary effects which can subside when a healthy routine is created, chronic cases of poor sleep over time can have a drastic impact on a person’s mental health. Management and recovery is greatly improved when a good sleep routine is established and maintained.

Routines help manage and mediate the effects of life, a strong routine not only gives the time and energy to problem solve and action decisions. It keeps focus and stops a person from becoming too fixated on one area whilst over areas full to ruin. Lack of routine will often mean that areas of concern are neglected such as eating, planning and admin which can lead to a feeling of chaos and lack of control. This makes the unknown challenges that we face more overwhelming when they arrive.    

Nutrition and hydration

Nutrition and hydration are the fundamental building blocks of a healthy functioning human body and mind. Once suboptimal levels of nutrients or fluids are consumed the body will begin to send alert messages through the body. Systems and biochemical processing become affected, some severely inhibited if allowed to continue over time. It is crucial to ensure a healthy balance of micro and macronutrients are regularly consumed. Avoiding food groups, vitamins or mineral sources can be of significant detriment to the health of a person. For further information read the article “Introduction to nutrition”.

Self dictatorship or external dictatorship

Self dictatorship refers to the little voice you have in your head, this voice tells you how you feel, act and respond, what offends you, what makes you laugh, what inspires you and what demotivates you. This voice is created through life experiences, your education, the relationships you have and the society you are born into. Self dictatorship can be a subconscious voice, meaning it affects your reactions but you may not really notice it. Instead, you may just notice the effects of the response. Becoming aware of one’s self dictatorship allows you to decide if your responses are how you wish them to be or if they are counterintuitive to your goals and the way you wish to live your life.

External dictatorship means you are affected by someone else’s rules and behaviors. This may be a parent, a partner, a boss, a friend, or someone else of influence in your life. Their thoughts, feelings and actions can change the way you respond and deal with situations and problems. The effect can swing positively or negatively. Becoming aware of how someone affects the way you behave, allows for you to consciously decide if they affect you for the best or in a less desirable way. By selecting who you allow into your inner circle you begin to influence what you are exposed to.

Exercise and activity

Exercise and being active is a great way to relieve stress for a number of reasons. By simply being active it allows the mind a level of rest, many will comment on how their mind clears or they forget about the stresses and worries. For the mind it’s a place to unravel the daily stresses, it is also some solitude from your own thoughts and feelings. Activity is also a great releaser of feel-good hormones. Once released, these hormones suppress the very hormones that can lead to anxiety. Resulting in clearer thinking and a better aptitude to problem solve.

For people with severe anxiety, high-intensity workouts should be avoided to start, commonly weight-based routines, slow steady cardio and relaxation classes work better until a balance is achieved with the anxiety. Spikes in heart rate combined with the release of stress hormones from exercise can sometimes trigger anxiety attacks later that day or the following day.

The chronic compounding effect of everything

The difficultly chronic cases or acute flare-ups face is the why! Why now, why like this, why can’t I get back to normal? When in cases where there seems to be no route causes. It would be a safe idea to believe the anxiety experienced is being caused by a multitude of issues that are all combining together to the problem in hand.

The compound effect is a well-known ideology which helps people understand how small actions or decisions have little meaning when alone or infrequent. However, when combined together and sustained the little actions can add up to create a substantial effect. This principle works in the favour of negative and positive results meaning many little actions taken can contribute to anxiety or many little actions can be taken to reduce or remove bouts of anxiety from your life.

High functioning anxiety

High functioning anxiety is a simple idea, the person has the ability to complete all tasks, whilst managing to keep an outward-facing persona that suggests there are no undesirable emotions being experienced. They will often be able to sustain good routines and may have a low awareness of the anxiety their body and mind is under. In severe cases, stress fractures may show within the person and their awareness of the difficulty experienced may begin to show.

High functioning people may go their whole lives without a server issue or as time passes they reach a point where they start to break down and the anxiety begins to take effect with dramatic detrimental effects on their health and relationships around them.

Low functioning anxiety

For people who have a low functioning ability with anxiety, the effects are very much the opposite of a high functioning individual. This will see the sufferer struggle to manage routines and will often feel overwhelmed with daily life choices and actions they need to take. Large amounts of time may be spent on decisions with fear and worry entangled with each moment. In severe cases a small number of people may need or chose to use medication or may self prescribe narcotics to help reduce the experienced thoughts and feelings.

The individual may still maintain a life and routine but the effects will generally be more visible in behaviour and manor. The individual may have a significant awareness to the anxiety they are experiencing. 

Our top tips for gaining control on anxiety

  1. Educate and seek advice – Educate your self and seek advice and help. This will speed up the process dramatically whilst giving you an external source of input. The advice may come in one of the above topics, such as a sleep coach, PT, therapist, etc.
  2. Find your anchors and release them – Take some time to think about your anxiety anchors. What triggers you, they may be items, people, thoughts, or routines, etc. Once they are noted, think about ways to remove them, alter them, or change the way you interact with them.
  3. Alcohol and drugs – Both heavily affect mental health, a break from them whilst you work through a program to reduce the anxiety will significantly increase the chance of success.
  4. Exercise daily – Find an amount you feel happy with and make it a key part of your day. There is no rule to what you do. Try to make it fun and social if possible. Although exercising in solitude is great for downtime and thought processing. It is also healthy to socialise with like-minded people.
  5. Don’t let the label stick – There is no shame in mental health conditions, in fact most people have some form of episode over their lives and never seek help. That said, for many the label doesn’t need to define you, once you understand how to combat anxiety with the correct approach it can be eliminated or managed to the point of little expression of the feeling or its effects.
  6. Feed the brain – The brain needs good food to feel good. Poor nutrition or lack of it leads to an unhappy brain. If your brain is unhappy you are often destined for a bumpy ride. Like a plant make sure you water yourself daily.
  7. Believe in time and the little things add up – Time is needed to create or heal. Believe that today the little things you choose to do and not do will lead to profound change. It is the compounding effects of every decision that you make that leads to the results and circumstances you experience.

Books of interest

TA Today. A new introduction into transactional analysis – Author, Ian Stewart

The Will Power Instinct – Author, Kelly Mcgonigal

The Chimp Paradox – Author, Steve Peters

How to Eat, Move and be Healthy – Author, Paul Chek

We hope you enjoyed this read