Anxiety is an epidemic of contemporary times
To a certain extent, anxiety is a normal human condition. We all have worries, responsibilities, fears, and thus anxieties. Anyone can find themselves in stressful situations as a result of burnout. Sleep disorders appear, exhaustion sets in, headaches, back and stomach pains are present, tension and irritability occur - in short, the helplessness that comes with managing stress becomes overwhelming. If we take action soon enough by looking for forms of relaxation, relief, if we empty our cup of life in time, then the periods of high and low life energy alternate naturally. We strive to strike the right balance between times when we experience ourselves and the world around us positively and times when we see only negative aspects of life.
Most of us are familiar with how we feel during periods leading up to an examination, an interview, something we fear or are nervous about. It forces us to venture outside our comfort zone. The physical response of our body is part of our primal instinct when we feel attacked or threatened, like we did in the Stone Age when we used to run from predators. Fight, flight, freeze.
The easiest way to imagine anxiety is by revisiting a situation most of us have probably experienced: When a dangerous situation is about to occur while driving a car, we react automatically, subconsciously. It only takes a fraction of a second for the brain to anticipate danger. All available energy in the body flows straight into the heart and muscles.We get so scared that all our energy suddenly transfers into our subconscious response to danger. When it’s over, we’re exhausted but happy that the danger has passed without a negative outcome, like a road accident in this case. We slowly calm down, start breathing normally again, stop shaking, and the heart retains its normal rhythm.
But what happens when the body no longer knows how to return to its normal mode of operation? What if such a state, which is extremely stressful for a few seconds, lasts longer and keeps going? Sometimes such a heightened state of alertness simply doesn’t pass. It becomes a chronic condition. The body no longer distinguishes between a real and imagined threat. It’s on constant standby, which is an incredibly exhausting state to be in. Anxiety, fear, tension, nervousness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, nausea and a whole host of other disturbing physical malfunctions become our daily companions that we can no longer shake off. We are unable to relax. As these signs are similar to the symptoms of a wide variety of diseases, the level of fear increases. It could be heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, hormonal imbalance, but in fact it’s anxiety.
Our cognitive and emotional brains – reason and emotions – are out of balance.The emotional brain receives information from the environment and responds to it with bodily functions. This brain no longer distinguishes the apparent from the actual threat and triggers our survival mode, which is a genetically preconditioned instinct. The amygdala incorrectly regulates fear. Although the cognitive-rational brain knows that we have interpreted something as much more serious than it actually is, this brain shuts down, preventing us from reacting sensibly to the situation. The reaction of the emotional brain is stronger than the will and desire to manage anxiety rationally.
Even the best machines can break down. When the engine light starts flashing on the dashboard, we take the car for a check-up. But we don’t do the same when our system starts failing. Even when we run out of fuel, we try desperately to trick our body into continuing to function. We don’t care about this wonderful super computer of ours that turned on a whole array of warning lights because we’re afraid of being labelled incompetent, lazy, and weak. We fail to grasp the gravity of the situation in time, and unfortunately, nothing prepares us for the traitorous path to regaining our health once we do realise that we’re heading for a breakdown. Periods of severe anxiety alternate, and when we comprehend why, it’s often already too late. We therefore dread the next time this happens, constantly living in fear of the next panic attack.
Today, a growing number of people suffer from anxiety. Women are twice as likely to feel anxious than men due to a different hormonal functioning of the body. Lately, anxiety disorders are affecting adolescents and even children at an alarming rate. It’s the result of constant excessive worrying over normal everyday things within the society we’ve created. It’s not just about the amount of effort we invest in tacking it, but about our inner structure, emotional hypersensitivity, perfectionism, perception of the world around us, demanding too much of ourselves and thinking about what others expect from us or the roles society has prescribed us. It’s about internalising all these roles and not being able to draw a healthy line between our personality, other people, and the roles we assume in life. As if someone had removed the shield that prevents the energy, thoughts, and desires of others from coming in direct contact with us.
Anxiety has never been such a burning issue. This modern-day epidemic does not distinguish between age, status, occupation, or social status. Only someone who has lost their inner compass knows how difficult it is to function everyday life.
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