Hi, Dr. Louella again. I want to chat with you about anxiety today. This comes off our talk on insomnia, where I realized that anxiety was the cause of my recent bout of insomnia.
Now, this is not a treatise on anxiety. It is just want to make you more aware of it and how to deal with it. I am in the advantageous position of both having studied and treated people with anxiety disorders and having suffered anxiety myself. Advantageous? Yes, I know both ends of the stick and it is a good feeling when what you’ve been through can benefit someone else.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I am cured of anxiety because it is usually not that easy. But I am managing it so that it does not interfere with my life. That’s the key, how functional you are. And I do function!
Well, what is anxiety to begin with? The very essence of it is fear. It may be disguised as concern or worry. It is a negative respond to stress. We allow ourselves to ruminate or obsess over a situation because we are afraid of something going wrong in the future or are unable to let go of the hurts of the past.
Anxiety is basically a human emotion which we all feel. It can be useful in small doses. Say you are crossing a road. Next thing you see a truck come speeding out of nowhere. The anxiety you feel can catapult you to the other side of the road. That’s our “fight or fight” response due to adrenaline (‘epinephrine’, to the Americans), and we surely need it.
But there are other times when that response is misplaced. Your daughter goes out with a friend, and as the night draws later you start to worry more and more about her safety in these times of high crime. You think you have a right to worry about her as a parent. But do you? Examine it with me for a while.
You will be evoking in your body a similar but milder ‘fight or flight’ response with your worry. Hormones are going to be released. Your heart beats faster, blood pressure will elevate, digestive system is suppressed, muscles tense up, but unlike in the previous example, there is no action. You can’t run across the road and save her! You can do nothing.
You get your body in this hyped up state and the excess fuel is not used for any physical activity. Normal bodily functions are suppressed when we are ‘stressed’, including the ability to fight off diseases. You are like this, yet you can do nothing to help your daughter. I let my patients know they’re not helping her, and they’re certainly not helping themselves with their worry.
So now, imagine if you do this repeatedly. Everyday there is something new to worry about: the state of the economy, the package delivered late, the traffic conditions, murder, the failed dinner, the sick child, the list is exhaustive. What happens in our minds? What happens to our bodies?
You may be surprised by what a negative response to stress does to our bodies. Remember, everyone is faced with stressful situations on a daily basis. But we don’t all respond the same. Something one person throws over the shoulder, another person laughs at and yet another rants and raves about. So, it is not the actual stressor but our response to it that affects our bodies.
When we respond with frequent expressions of fear such as concern, worry, fretting and anxiety, it affects us physically. We are constantly putting our bodies on alert to act but never do. Chronic anxiety affects us through: dizziness, fast heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, irritability, nausea, rapid breathing, trembling, digestive disorders, memory loss and premature heart attack.
Look again at those symptoms. Don’t you get some of those from time to time? I have sooo many otherwise healthy patients who come in with the symptoms above. I automatically think ‘stress’ when I see a young woman with mild dizziness. More often than not, there is a huge stressor in her life that she is not coping well with.
And isn’t everyone ‘tired’ or has lack of energy these days? What about stomach problems and memory loss? Hey! I’m not saying we simply dismiss these symptoms as stress-related but it is important to be aware, especially in general practice, that you may not be able to find an actual physical cause of a problem. The possibility that there are psychological factors triggering symptoms is real.
But, being a doctor and knowing my body, if I ever feel dizziness I say to myself, “Girl, you are stressing over something. You didn’t realize, huh?” And when I am forgetting a whole lot, I know I need a rest. When my acid reflux resurfaces, I don’t take meds. I just make a note to myself that I’m stressed.
I must re-direct you to the symptoms one final time. Do you see why you need a good night’s sleep before exams? For memory and concentration. And how could a healthy corporate executive just keel over with a heart attack? Extreme stress. Ever notice you’re just sitting there but you’re breathing hard?
So the long and short of it is that anxiety and excessive stress are not good for our bodies, especially as cortisol suppresses our immune system making us more susceptible to diseases. When I’m stressing myself out a lot I think, “You’re killing yourself girl; shortening your life. Stop it!”
But really, I would like to take you more inside the mind of an anxious person (you may well find that mind is your own) because it’s no big taboo. All of us get anxious, some more so than others. I want to teach you to be able to recognize the state and be able to get out of it quickly.
Ok, so I gotta go now. Will chat more later in the week. I have got an hour and 30 min to get to church, and for me, that ain’t enough. I’m not like my sis who needs an hour. Ciao!!!