Feelings aren’t facts: Understand your anxiety

Samuel Eddy
Many nurses, midwives and students call Nurse & Midwife Support concerned about anxiety. It’s not surprising — anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. According to Beyond Blue, on average, one in four people — one in three women and one in five men — will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety.

We asked our friend and supporter, Samuel Eddy, to share his views on anxiety.

Samuel Eddy is an executive coach and wellbeing trainer who helps organisations and individuals manage stress and anxiety, tap into creativity and innovation and make positive changes in culture, career, business, well-being and work/life balance.
Body

woman in nature

This is what Samuel said:

We often talk about anxiety in the context of mental health. To a certain degree, it makes sense. One of the symptoms of anxiety is excessive worrying, which occurs in the mind — hence the reference to ‘mental’ in mental health.

We pay less attention to the idea that anxiety lives in the body just as much in the mind. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest it is the body that often triggers anxiety, worry and fear-based thinking. So the question I pose to you is:

If you didn’t have unpleasant physical symptoms of anxiety, such as nausea or adrenaline surges, would negative and fearful thoughts feel so powerful?

The many physical symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, sweating, muscle spasms, blurred vision, dizziness and nausea can be very distressing to experience. These symptoms are triggered by the body’s stress response and are designed to generate fear in order to get our attention. The problem with anxiety is that often there is no real and present danger. The physical symptoms seem to arise out of the blue and can have many triggers such as the environment, memories, smells or even people.

So are the physical sensations of anxiety merely symptomatic of a mental health problem, or are they an integral part of perpetuating one? I suggest the latter. My own personal experience of anxiety and the work I do with clients has taught me that understanding how our bodies can lead our thinking astray can be pivotal to recovery.

Stress that builds up over a long period of time can cause our nervous system (which includes our mind AND body) to become highly sensitized. This means that even the slightest anxious thought can trigger an unpleasant physical symptom, in turn triggering an exaggerated emotional reaction. It is the physical symptoms that make us feel so awful that bluffs us into then engaging with our fearful and negative thinking, and so the cycle continues.

Understanding this allowed me, and now many of my clients to start to break the anxiety cycle and not let how they feel dictate how they think.

If you experience anxiety or are concerned about your mental health and want support call Nurse & Midwife Support 1800 667 877 or check out the resources on the website.