In some ways anxiety really is a normal part of life. It shows we care, we are cautious, concerned and that we want to do the right thing and be safe. Anxiety is helpful, in that it makes us think, problem solve, plan and pre-empt situations. HOWEVER, anxiety when it intrudes on our quality of life and stops us doing things and taking part in an enjoyable, exciting and extraordinary life, is not helpful.
One way of looking at anxiety and the more extreme panic attacks is by understanding the physiological and chemical reactions going on in our body in response to stressors or "perceived" threats. This will be an ultra quick lesson in the fight or flight response (otherwise known as stress response, or adrenal response). Google "stress response" or "fight/flight response" if you are interested in finding out even more than just my basic interpretation and understanding of it (you can find some pretty good you-tube clips on it too !).
The stress response (or adrenal system) is basically our alarm or "danger sensor" system which tells us when something is wrong, and then prepares us to do something about it. So the messages come in from all our senses (that is why the use of music and silence in movies like "Jaws", "Wolf creek", "The Awakening" is so effective in creating an atmosphere of fear in our minds) and then the message goes out to our body to deal with the threat - either run away or avoid (the flee or flight response) or fight back, angry (fight response). An extreme stress response in humans is also freeze - this works well for some animals like the rabbit trying not to get noticed by a predator (doesn't work well for rabbits on the motorway though) and we are also advised that the freeze response is the most useful one if confronted by a grizzly bear or an Australian Brown Snake. Usually we find we respond with either fight or flight.
The message that gets sent to our body is via a flood of adrenaline which gets our bodies ready to run or to stand and protect ouselves (physically, emotionally or verbally). Adrenaline pumps more blood to our muscles, makes our heart beat faster, our breathing faster, and shuts down unnecessary functions such as digestion. This used to work well back in the caveman days to keep us safe from dangers like dinosaurs and sabre tooth tigers. These days the "threats" we "perceive" are more concerned with judging ourselves or being judged by others ie not living up to our own or others expectations. Of course we still have things like phobias and fears of heights, social situations, performing, small spaces etc that effect some people.
Anxiety is hugely problematic and disabling when the stress respose is disproprotional to the threat. It's like our alarm system or threat sensor is giving off a false alarm - just like an oversensitive smoke detector that starts blaring as soon as you turn the toaster on, rather than when the curtains catch on fire. It is especially problematic when we start avoiding things, people, activities and life "just in case " we could get distressed. Over time our world can become smaller and smaller. Avoiding things actually doesn't fix anxiety, it just reinforces there is something to be anxious about. The trick to overcoming anxiety is to learn ways to control and turn off the false alarms.
So managing anxiety is all about learning to control and "recalibrate" your internal alarm system to go off ONLY when it needs to. There are some scenarios below which give a couple of strategies to use to start managing your anxiety. And I will keep adding ideas and strategies over time. Also, it wold be negligent of me not to suggest that you talk to your doctor or other health professional if you are experiencing significant or frequent symptoms of anxiety.
Love and light,