When we talk about the physical symptoms that we experience when we are anxious there is a whole range of sensations and feelings that can happen to our body..
These may vary from person to person, but they all happen in the same way and for the same reason - the reason that we have the anxiety in the first place: to warn us of danger and help us deal with it or get away from it.
Physical anxiety symptoms include:-
- Our breathing becomes more rapid
- Our heart beat speeds up
- We feel dizzy and light-headed
- We get 'butterflies' in our stomach
- We feel sick and/or need the toilet
- Our mouth becomes dry and it feels difficult to swallow
- We can experience profuse sweating
- We feel 'jittery' and 'jumpy' a feeling of being 'on-edge'
All these symptoms happen for one reason: to energize us for action. Here's how:-
- Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen into the blood to supply the major body muscles (arms, legs, chest)
- Our heartbeat speeds up to get the blood to these muscles quicker.
- Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy and from the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
- Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we need to get rid of it quickly - either through the mouth (feelings of nausea) or the
other end (wanting to go to the toilet).
- Other 'energy-wasting' systems (unnecessary in time of danger) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
- We sweat more to cool down all this energy production.
- The energy boost to the muscles makes them 'jumpy' / 'jittery' / 'jelly-like'/ on edge ready for action.
This energizing of our body is responsible for all the anxiety and panic symptoms that we experience. Some of the symptoms may be enhanced by our thoughts, for example, a dry throat with subsequent perceived difficulty swallowing, may be built up into feeling we are choking, but in essence everything that is happening to our body is a result of it being prepared for action.
All physical anxiety and panic symptoms result from the body re-directing resources to the major muscle groups (legs/arms/chest) to provide them with an energy boost to prepare us for action, ultimately to stand and fight or flee. It is known as the fight-or-flight response.
Much the same can happen with anger, for in anger we are also preparing for action.
After we have been angry, anxious or panic-stricken this charge of energy needs to be released and it is done so by such things as crying and shaking - often seen after anger and panic.
We need to realise that all the above symptoms are normal and natural. Indeed, when we experience these symptoms, there is nothing wrong with us; our body is, in fact, working perfectly. What is wrong, the core of anxiety disorders and depression, is the reason why we experience these symptoms. What in life are we
associating with danger and why?
By Terry Dixon B.Sc.
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