Monday, September 2, 2013

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Anxiety


Welcome to our blog on Anxiety.  There is so much we want to share with you on this topic.

Anxiety is often experienced as a powerful reaction. Our hearts race, we sweat, we flush and our breathing quickens. We also start to think and feel negatively about our selves, others and the world around us.

Anxiety touches our lives in many ways - it affects our ability to think clearly, it makes us want to avoid people or situations, and important relationships can be seriously affected. When anxiety gets the better of us, it can become difficult to function at home, work or school.

Today’s blog is  the first in a series of three blogs on anxiety. Through these blogs we’ll be sharing with you how anxiety can be a healthy or unhealthy factor in your life. In our two next blogs we’ll discuss the impact of anxiety --- on your self, your partner, your children, and those you interact with everyday at work. Following this, we’ll be sharing some scientific-based simple solutions. Stay tuned. You don’t have to live with anxiety forever!

For now, we’re so glad that you’ve joined us for our initial blog. We’re hoping that what you’ll read here today will help you make sense of this powerful experience.

The first thing we’d like for you to consider is that anxiety can be healthy! Research in psychology and neuroscience has uncovered anxiety's vital role in survival. It’s a signal that tells us that we might be in danger --- it also helps us to start protecting ourselves against whatever is threatening to us. A powerful fight-flight-freeze reaction – an important evolutionary response originating from our ‘old’ brain (i.e., the brain stem and amygdala) – occurs and prepares us to take action --- this response is largely automatic, extremely fast and happens outside of our awareness. When this system is turned on, we experience fear and anticipate and look for negative things that might endanger us.  Anxiety prepares us to survive --- to fight, flee or freeze to escape the danger. This response would have helped our earliest ancestors to flee from a sabre tooth tiger to ensure their survival!

These signals are, therefore, adaptive because they promote survival --- they help us take protective action in moments of danger. With the development of the ‘new’ brain (i.e., the frontal cortex), we developed the ability to think and assess whether a situation is really dangerous. For example, our ‘old brain’ may be sending us a strong signal about an impending threat at work. Our mind might be screaming for us to run away from the situation --- but first we must evaluate the reality of the threat. This process is really important because we don’t want to overreact but we also don’t want to ignore our anxiety. It is an important source of information. Even when the threat is real, we have to assess the situation and plan action that addresses the threat in an appropriate way. For many people, learning how to assess and deal with this can be challenging.

Anxiety can be unhealthy then --- and become a problem for you --- especially, when your ability to assess the situation is compromised. People who have experienced stressful events, may be particularly prone to these types of difficulties. Stress can cause this system to be overly active --- the switch is always turned "on" even when not needed --- in these cases, it becomes difficult for a person to calm him or her self down, and objectively assess the reality of the threatening situation.

When we’ve faced a lot of threat and danger in our lives, we tend to anticipate the possibility of it happening again --- we may over interpret the world as a dangerous place. Anxiety signals to us that there is threat and danger --- when this signal is constantly on, your capacity to think, reflect, and assess the perceived threat and to make appropriate decisions is impaired.

The good news is that scientifically supported treatments have been developed to help those who struggle with anxiety, which we implement in psychotherapeutic treatment. For example, you can learn how to notice physical cues that can alert you that anxiety is coming! This allows you to "catch" important moments and engage in coping behaviors to deal with strong sensations, and negative thoughts and feelings. Essentially we can learn how to calm our selves and manage these experiences in more effective ways. There is a lot to learn about anxiety and we want to share so much more with you so that you can begin to master this powerful force.

You won’t want to miss our next blog where we’ll share important information about how anxiety affects your relationship to your self, others and your workplace --- we’ll also provide you with tips on how to deal with anxiety at home. We’ll look forward to connecting to you again in our upcoming blogs!

Read more about our Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Treatment Service.