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What is anxiety?

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I've been helping people to overcome anxiety for more than 21 years. 

Anxiety is very common. In fact everyone will experience anxiety from time to time. Believe it or not, anxiety is a normal response. It's not an illness. Sometimes, however, it is inappropriate and sometimes it is excessive and can be very debilitating. You probably know this already!

But what is anxiety, and where does it come from? 

Well there are different forms of anxiety. Some people can suffer from health anxiety, and the events of the past couple of years definitely won't have helped with that! Some people can feel anxious about giving a talk, or speaking up in meetings; for some it might be anxiety about getting on an aeroplane. Some people feel anxious about leaving their home (agoraphobia). Others, including sports people, may suffer from performance anxiety; which could be driven by fear of failure, fear of success, fear of what other people might think etc. The list goes on.

But these fears have been learnt, and hence they can be un-learnt. 

Some people feel anxious most of the time. Some of these people will know what triggers their anxiety, and some people will have no idea. 

Two main types of anxiety

Roughly speaking, anxiety can be broken down into two types. The first is what I call triggered anxiety. Here's a scenario that will help you to understand how it works. 

Let's take the case of Johnny. When Johnny was a little five year old boy he was asked to play the part of Joseph in the school nativity play. He only had one line to speak in the play. He comes out onto the stage, and there he is, the centre of attention. Mum and Dad are there in the front row along with other parents and teachers. Unfortunately, Johnny forgets his line for a few brief moments (after all he's only five). During that brief period, however, he feels a little bit embarrased. No big deal really, as he remembers his line eventually, and within a few days he'll probably have forgotten all about it anyway. The problem is, a part of his brain remembers the incident for future reference. This is the part of our brain that is there to keep us safe. The problem with this part of the brain is it doesn't know the difference between something that is actually dangerous, e.g. a lion or tiger, and something that is harmless, e.g. speaking up in a meeting, or getting stuck in a traffic jam.

Fast forward a few weeks, months, or even years and Johnny finds himself in a similar situation. He might be stood in front of the class about to read a page from a book. He might be about to give a talk or presentation at work, or he might be about to give a speech at his own wedding. But he feels anxious. Why? Because his brain remembers what happened when he was a little boy in the school play, and although he'll have forgotten all about that on a conscious level, his brain will cause him to feel anxious, just as he did as a little boy. Johnny's anxiety is triggered by the siuation because it is similar to the original event. It's all about protection, but of course it can cause a lot of problems.

That's a simple example of how triggered anxiety works. The good news is that it is treatable by helping Johnny to leave the original event behind in the past where it belongs, so he can properly move forward with his life as an adult, free of anxiety.

The second type of anxiety is so-called cortex based anxiety. This is generated by the thinking part of the brain (the cortex). To help you to understand this one I'll talk about Sally. You see whan Sally was a little girl she was often told she was "stupid" by her Dad. Dad might have really meant it, but it may have been said as a joke, but not a very funny one. In reality, Sally wasn't stupid at all, but because she was often told that she was (and Dad must be right because he's a grown up. Right?) then she believes it on a deeper level. This can have a significant effect on Sally's life as she grows up. For example she gets overly anxious about doing exams at school, after all she's "stupid" and so is more likely to fail. She doesn't apply for jobs that she's more than capable of doing. because she's "stupid", or at least that's what she thinks. So she ends up under-achieving and probably in a dead-end job. She lacks confidence and has low self-esteem. On top of that she may use food as a comfort, creating yet more self-hatred. 

In short, Sally believes she's not good enough and has developed a fear of failure. This is, sadly, all too common. Of course the reality is that Sally is good enough, because we all are, but her thoughts say otherwise. But that's just her thoughts.

So that's an example of cortex based anxiety, which again can be helped by dealing with the underlying cause, and often very quickly.

Now, just going back to Johnny for a moment. It's very likely that he will have developed cortex based anxiety as well, so that even just the thought of giving a presentation can make him feel anxious. In actual fact, many cases of anxiety will be a combination of triggered and cortex based anxiety. 

These are just two simple examples, but of course sometimes anxiety can be a bit more complex. No matter how complex it might be, or appear to be, it can be treated, and sometimes surprisingly quickly.

If any of this sounds familiar, and I'm guessing it does because that's why you're here, then get in touch and we can have a chat either in person (if you're in the Nottingham area) or on Zoom. Similarly, if you have any questions please let me know and I'll get back to you.

Over the years I've helped many people to overcome:-

Fear of flying, spiders, moths etc.
Social phobia
Fear of public speaking
Generalised anxiety disorder
Free-floating anxiety
Health anxiety
Performance anxiety with sports men and women, and actors

So if you want to book a free initial consultation, or if you have a question, I can be contacted on 0115 9871581 or robert@nottinghamcoaching.co.uk

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