Anxiety is unfortunately very common. In our fast-paced society of 24/7/365 living, it seems like we all suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety is part of the “fight or flight” system that helps us (and your ancestors) survive. If it weren’t for “fight or flight” we would not have outrun the bear in the woods or survived some other attack in the wild.
Normally, anxiety can serve us well. Anxiety serves as a form of emotional energy that helps us get things done or avoid problems when we channel anxiety properly. For example, who doesn’t have anxiety when a big project is due in a few days or there is a big exam coming up? Or rather than walk down a dark alley, anxiety helps you avoid this potentially dangerous situation. Anxiety can help make you focus better and work harder. Many champion athletes point to the “fear of losing” as the impetus to work harder and achieve their goals. In this case, the fear of losing is a form of anxiety and is an example of anxiety working to help us.
The problem with anxiety is when we don’t turn off the “fight or flight” after the threat is gone. Our bodies are designed to protect us from threats of bodily harm. When there is a threat, our hearts start to pump harder, our breathing gets faster, our blood pressure goes up, and we begin to sweat. This is also what happens in a panic attack. None of these responses are a problem during a real threat, but what about in our everyday lives? Most of us are not faced with wild animal threats or some other threat to our very lives, yet we suffer with these symptoms. The question then is why?
Our “fight or flight” system is running amok, that’s why. That’s the simple explanation. There are chemical messengers in our brains called neurotransmitters that transmit information. Some of these chemicals are calming and others are stimulatory, in other words, some of them turn things off others turn things on. Think of it as the gas pedal or the brakes. In anxiety, there is an over-abundance of stimulatory neurotransmitters or not enough calming neurotransmitters. Like driving a car with the foot on the gas but no brakes; that will make your heart rate go up!
Examples of stimulatory neurotransmitters are norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenalin), glutamate, and dopamine. Calming neurotransmitters are gamma-aminobenzoic acid (GABA), serotonin, and acetylcholine. Too much stimulation or not enough calming and these neurotransmitters get out of balance resulting in anxiety.
How do we control this system? Much of the control comes from our own thoughts. What we think about, what we focus our mind on, what we believe about a situation, and what we expect as an outcome all contribute to our anxiety. Also, worries about the future can keep us in a state of anxiety. The good news about all of this is that the one thing we do control in life is our thoughts and where we choose to focus our minds. So then, all we have to do is change our thinking. Easier said than done, but the concept is straightforward. This is where psychological counseling can help in lowering anxiety by helping identify underlying issues that hold us back.
Where anxiety is “out of control” and interfering with our lives, we can use medication to treat this. Anxiety, when it is not constructive, will have the effect of preventing us from doing the things we want to do. We literally freeze, like the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” We are frozen with fear and cannot function. We forget things, and stammer, and cannot think. This kind of anxiety is destructive to our lives.
For this kind of anxiety, medication may be of great help. However, medication alone is not the answer. If you have anxiety that is so problematic that it requires medication, then some form of counseling is recommended. When you come for a consultation, we will discuss these options with you and help you set out clear objectives for treatment.
Real patient testimonial: Natalie -- ADHD, anxiety, depression, BHRT pellets