We know that, if we have experienced significant childhood trauma, we are more likely, as adults, to experience various forms of mental illness than those who were fortunate enough to have had relatively stable and secure childhoods. One such condition we may develop due to our childhood difficulties is clinical anxiety and it is this condition that I wish to examine in this article.
Specifically, I want to look at how anxiety makes us think, feel, communicate and behave. So, let’s look at each of these in turn :
1) HOW ANXIETY MAKES US THINK :
– it is difficult to think clearly; it is like being enveloped by a mental fog or trying to think through treacle
– thinking becomes circular and repetitive – the same obsessive details regarding our problem go round and round in our mind, to absolutely no avail
– our thoughts become ‘stuck’ or ‘locked into’ our problem and we cease to make mental progress; thinking becomes futile and exhausting
– concentration on anything but our problem is impaired
– our sense of perspective becomes impaired; we are prevented from seeing the ‘bigger picture’
– we become mentally dominated by our problem, making it very hard to address other important aspects of our lives effectively as with have very little ‘mental energy’ to spare
– we become negative and pessimistic
– our confidence regarding other aspects of our lives is undermined
– we cannot view the problem we are obsessing about objectively or rationally
– we become focused on our short term survival, at the expense of our long-term interests (we may, for example, resort to drink and/or drugs in an attempt to gain some respite from our anguished psychological state – this is known as ‘DISSOCIATING’: click here to read my article on this)
2) HOW ANXIETY MAKES US FEEL :
– at best, being in a state of anxiety is unpleasant and painful, at worst it can lead to a profound sense of anguish and a feeling of being mentally tortured and tormented
– even simple tasks seem impossibly overwhelming (during my own protracted experience of extreme anxiety, I stopped brushing my teeth, rarely shaved and once, when my condition was at its worst, did not change any of my clothes for three months. I did not go out, except for cigarettes and alcohol, and survived by ordering in indian takeaways. Looking back now, I’m surprised I survived the period)
– feelings of mistrust for others frequently develop; indeed, we might start to feel threatened by others, which, at the extreme end of the scale, can develop into clinical paranoia
– our senses can become accentuated so that being in bright light, or hearing loud noises, can feel like a physical assault (to this day, I much prefer overcast days to sunny ones)
– our ‘startle response’ becomes exaggerated so that the smallest of things, like a soft knock at the door or the phone ringing, can ‘make us jump’ or even terrify us
DIAGRAM TO SHOW HOW THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS CAN INTERACT AND FEED OFF ONE ANOTHER TO DEVELOP A VICIOUS CYCLE :
3) HOW ANXIETY AFFECTS HOW WE COMMUNICATE :
– language, like thinking, becomes circular and repetitive – we go over the same ground again and again.
– if people try to reassure us, we find reasons why we cannot be reassured
4) HOW ANXIETY MANIFESTS ITSELF IN OUR BEHAVIOUR :
-we feel stuck on ‘red alert’, constantly hypervigilant and expecting imminent disaster
– we may be unable to sit still, instead fidgeting nervously or pacing around the room
– alternatively, we may feel frozen by fear and sit motionless
– we may be highly irritable and quick to anger
– we may feel paralyzed by fear, almost completely unable to function and unable to cope with the smallest of life’s demands
– we may find it extremely hard to rest and impossible to relax
– sleep may be very badly affected – shallow, fitful, full of nightmares and unrefreshing (we may feel as tired after our so-called ‘sleep’ as we were just before we went to bed)
– high levels of stress and anxiety may also adversely affect our physical health, leading to, for example, palpitations, headaches, stomach problems, aches and pains. At the worst end of the spectrum, long-term and severe anxiety is thought to be linked to some forms of cancer, stroke, heart problems and high blood pressure
– we become scared of taking even very small risks, opting instead for safety and security; this can greatly restrict how we live our life and deprive us of many opportunities
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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