How to Understand and Deal with Increased Anxiety
Everyone has anxiety; it is a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years and helps to
protect us from being hurt. We all get anxious at times.
Anxiety prepares us to deal with anything that may harm us by fighting or running away. To fight or flee, the fight-or-flight
response... it is this that makes us feel scared to keep us safe.
In the past, dangerous things that could harm us (and scared us) included the likes of: wild animals, poisonous snakes and
insects, strangers, heights and confined spaces. Being confronted by any of these could have been life threatening.
In the modern world we no longer face the direct threats of our ancestors. They still exist of course: wild animals, dangerous
strangers etc., and could potentially kill us in certain circumstances, but they don't impact our lives as they did.
Today, the things that make us feel scared are more subtle and vague. Their effects build up slowly over time, and
include such things as:-
• Conflict with partners in relationships
• Conflict with family members
• Trouble with work colleagues or the job itself
• Money, bills and fear of debt
• Health, diet and the fear of illness
• The violence in the world as reported daily on the news
All of these can make us feel bad, unhappy and miserable for a long time. They make us uncomfortable, generally discontented and in a very
real way, insecure.
When problems in our life persist or get worse we start to feel bad and insecure more often.
Eventually anxiety (our self protection system) kicks in, mild at first, usually in form of nervousness and apprehension or
some anxiety-related symptom may appear.
We may notice that we are more shaky, sweating more, experiencing heart palpitations, tightness across the chest or blushing
– any symptom related to anxiety may develop. And worrying about these symptoms only makes them worse for it increases
This increased anxiousness reflects our mind and body warning us that something is not right in our life,
something is making us insecure and we need to stop it or get away from it.
If the situation remains unresolved we can become more and more anxious, (with various anxiety symptoms getting worse),
seemingly for no apparent reason.
Today, many people start to become too anxious for the reasons detailed above:
unresolved life situations that cause continuous unhappiness and insecurity.
And the answer to short-term anxiety problems (that seems to have come on for no reason) involves three things:-
1. Establish a reason for the anxiety
Identify any situation in life that is regularly causing unnecessary stress and feelings of insecurity. Accept that such
situations would cause anxiety in anyone and that your anxiety is justified and there for a reason.
This acceptance and giving a reason for the anxiety reduces much of its power. Seeing it as justified and with a reason
rather than being a medical condition or due to "something wrong with us" is the first element of control ... now
we can do something about it.
Stressful, negative life situations should be removed / avoided wherever possible. And when it's not possible to do this we
need to adapt how we react to them to reduce the stress they cause us.
Relaxation is the physiological opposite of tension; it's impossibe for a relaxed muscle to be tense or a calm mind to be
anxious. Find a relaxation technique that is comfortable and effective and practice it regularly. (The 'Progressive Muscle Relaxation' technique developed by
Jacobsen in the 1930's remains one of the most successful methods available).
Endorphines (natural morphine-like chemicals) released by the body during exercise to combat the stress of the excercise help
to alleviate all stress. Physical exercise also provides a release for pent-up nervous energy and numerous studies show exercise
to be better than anti-depressants at alleviating (not curing) depression.
Develop an exercise regime appropriate to age, fitness levels and health (consult medical and fitness professional before
starting any exercise regime) and, again, do it regularly.
Identifying and dealing with any stressful life situation combined with counteracting the mental and physical effects of
anxiety through relaxation and exercise can help to remedy any short-term problems relating to 'unexplained'
Self Help Pubs. (US)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Social Anxiety Disorder
1. Dimea, F. et al (2001) Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: a pilot study. British
Journal of Sports Medicine, 35,114-117
2. Throughout: Barlow, D. H. Anxiety and its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic (1998) New York: The