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What is Anxiety

By: Richard Boyd Copyright © 2022 May 25, 2015 no comments

What is Anxiety

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Anxiety disorders are affecting over 250 million people worldwide, and are growing in alarming numbers. In Australia, according to some surveys, if one includes people who have Anxiety but remain undiagnosed, then the statistic may be 1 in 4 people are suffering some form of Anxiety disorder. Anxiety affects women more than men according to the United States National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website. This statistic persists despite ethnic, racial or economic differences between women. The Blackdog Institute for Depression, currently notes over 2 million Australians have some form of Anxiety disorder or condition, while over 1 million have some form of Depression disorder.

Anxiety is a normal part of the human condition and we all experience it throughout our lives. Healthy anxiety is where one feels anxious when faced with a challenging, fearful, difficult, or dangerous situation. Healthy Anxiety will function to assist in improving our performance in acting and to alert us to bodymind tension. It makes us fully present, focused, and can be a positive and useful experience.

Anxiety disorders are sometimes clinically divided into two main types. The Beyond Blue Institute notes that the first type is known as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which typically is a background unspecific but enduring state and presence in the sufferer. The second type is often associated with trauma or events and includes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Phobias, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, which can be triggered by a major life stressor event. According to the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version IV) (DSMIV), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised as being where an adult person typically experiences a depressed mood or feeling that is present in and affects the life of an individual for most days, for at least 2 years.

Anxiety has a causal relationship with stress. Indeed a major life stressor is often recognised as having been the trigger to a subsequent onset of bouts of both Anxiety and Depression in many of those affected. Many people who define themselves as stressed are often really exhibiting Anxiety in one of its forms.

According to body-mind researcher and M.D, Alexander Lowen, Anxiety manifests its key symptoms in both the body and the mind. In the mind of the sufferer the reported symptoms commonly include having a racing mind, thought loops where the thinking which often fear based, cannot be resolved,  feeling tired due to loss of sleep, having a busy mind that tends to ruminate or constantly think of some past issue that remains unresolved, of being hyper vigilant to their environment, being unable to relax or concentrate in present time, adopting ritualistic obsessions or practices to distract oneself from one’s own thinking, to name a few.

In the body there is a felt sense of jumpiness, alertness, fear, tension in muscles, fatigue without sleepiness, raised heartbeat and blood pressure, sweaty or clammy hands, shaking, twitching, nervous tics, frequent urination, dry mouth or throat, dizziness, shallow breathing, stomach complaints, impulses to move and be busy or some form of hyperactivity followed by a collapse into an alert tiredness again.

The key issue here is that Anxiety is a body-mind issue that needs to be treated with both a cognitive (mind) and a somatic (body) approach, and is in some cases related to an underlying trauma issue.

According to trauma researchers such as Pat Ogden, Anxiety is an outcome of being in the Sympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and leads to the sufferer living from a “fight or flight” state of body-mind. In this state the body and mind symptoms noted before, all become manifest due to the brain forcing us to be in a primitive “survival” mode that is anxious, hyper vigilant, and cannot be sustained over any long period of time according to our body’s current state of evolutionary design.

The “fight or flight” state is designed to be resolved quickly, and not indefinitely sustained. This is the problem though for many people is they get into this state of being but their environment or their perception of their safety in their environment, keeps them unresolved  and in a “fight or flight” mode, and so they start to firstly manifest Anxiety, and then for some they drop into Depression. The proof of this is that medically it is recognised that every person who is depressed has underlying Anxiety, but not everyone who is anxious will go on to have Depression.  Alexander Lowen notes that Anxiety is a foundation state for the onset of Depression as it represents the key body-mind condition that is felt when one is in “fight or flight”.

Once a person is in a sustained “fight or flight” state, the brain via its Amygdala, starts to affect the Hypothalamus/Pituitary Gland/ Adrenal gland (HPA Axis). This key set of glands and brain functions to release key mood hormones, proteins and chemicals into the body, that then create the basis for the body-mind symptoms described previously.

Two key substances here are Adrenaline and Cortisol, both of which Pat Ogden notes, that medical studies have shown to be very high in sufferers of both Anxiety and Trauma. The “fight or flight” state of being causes the HPA axis to produce these chemicals to keep the anxious person in their anxiety ridden Sympathetic Nervous System state. Trauma researchers and Neuroscience studies by Dispenza and others show that as Anxiety and Depression sufferers stay in “fight or flight” mode for longer and longer, the HPA Axis starts to breakdown and exhibit duress and then illness. The HPA Axis in our body designed us to live in “fight or flight” mode for short periods of time, or in “burst” mode, not as a way of living.  The HPA Axis glands produce key hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol in burst mode as required but when they are required to keep producing these hormones on a long term continuous basis it results in these glands suffering a form of burnout. The medical conditions of Adrenal Exhaustion or Burnout, Under or  Over-active Thyroid, Pituitary Gland Fatigue, and some forms of migraine headaches are examples of this demand on the HPA Axis.

Long term Anxiety sufferers often manifest these type of secondary illnesses as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Candida and Thrush issues, all due to this process, Anxious people are often sick a lot of the time, or the first to “catch” what’s going around illness wise. The reason is that as part of being in the Sympathetic Nervous System state, the body-mind suppresses the immune system function in the body, notes BodyMind  authors such as Levine, Bruce Lipton, and others. Once you have long term Sympathetic Nervous System state of being, you then develop a long term suppressed immune system. From this place the opportunistic funguses (e.g. Thrush, Candida, H. Pylori) are able to grow in the gut and other sites to critical mass levels, while colds, flus, infections are likewise from a viral and bacterial viewpoint also able to gain footholds and produce illness.

Conversely, while in “fight or flight” mode,  the HPA Axis  also suppresses some key hormones that we rely on for good body-mind health in this same way under these same conditions.  The key mood chemicals such as Serotonin and Dopamine, plus some key feel-good endorphin chemicals are all suppressed when a person is in the “fight or flight” Sympathetic Nervous System mode. Long term suppression of each of these chemicals in the body has a causal link to Depression, as seen in the use of SSRI drugs in attempting to overcome Depression. This is one of the key reasons a person suffering Anxiety can over a longer term then slide into Depression, and why all Depression sufferers have an underlying Anxiety issue. The resulting downside of living in “fight or flight” mode then is the impacted body then negatively affects our moods, emotions, concentration, cognition or thinking processes, which all form part of what a person needs to be operating well in their life.  The body and mind work together, not apart, and both show the effects of living from the “fight or flight” mode Sympathetic Nervous system state for too long.

Currently society predominately treats Anxiety via a combination of counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT), in combination with the prescription of a range of relaxant, mood suppressant or mood affect drugs.  Counselling is useful where it teaches anxiety strategies such as  learning stress management and relaxation techniques, health and BodyMind exercise routines.  This approach is useful but only addresses the symptoms of the problem and does not address the “fight or flight” state of the person that creates this problem in the first place. Trauma researchers such as Pat Ogden note that CBT is also a “front brain” rational form of therapy which while helping with the mental distortions of Anxiety sufferers, it does not get into the Limbic or “emotional brain” of sufferers from where the ANS gets its impulses to switch in and out of “fight or flight” state of being.  This common mainstream medical approach to Anxiety restricts  a person for enduring periods, or perhaps  for life to taking  medication and doing therapy, without  often addressing the key underlying body-mind system that sets up the condition in the first place!!

The Energetics Institute  has designed Anxiety resolution programmes in both its personal Psychotherapy as well as its Organisational Coaching faculties. These have been adapted from the various body-mind traditions of Somatic  Therapy, Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation, CBT, Human Biology, Neuroscience, and the Bioenergetic understanding of the body and mind. The clinical effect has been to create a tailored range of exercises which address and intervene into the body-mind, resulting in the creation of the relaxed and beneficial Parasympathetic Autonomic Nervous system state, as well as taking a person from “out of their head”, and into a truly embodied state, where the person is present and primarily free from distracting thoughts and anxieties.

We treat people who are already medicated and those who are not under medication. We work with the natural processes of the body-mind to create and sustain over time a Parasympathetic ANS in Anxiety sufferers, as well as using Analytical and Behavioural Body-Mind  Psychotherapy to deal with distorted perceptions, realities, traumas and events which are often the triggers and underlying basis for Anxiety disorders.

The Energetics Institute also recognises that Anxiety is more than just a chemical imbalance, or a state of the nervous system. Anxiety is energetically also about fear and frozen energy. Anxiety sufferers have typically lapsed into becoming the role of a victim in their life, and feel helpless, defeated, and normally have disowned a healthy, life affirming aggressive or anger response to their threatening environment or persons that persecute them. The Anxiety is real for the sufferer but underneath the Anxiety will be found suppressed emotional material and so we say that Anxiety represents an energetic mask to the real issue behind that  body-mind and energetic state. By our capability to firstly ground a person in present time, then work with both the body-mind, the emotional state, the energetic state, and the suppressed material under the Anxiety, healing is both possible and lasting under this approach. Many Anxiety sufferers have unresolved parental abandonment or disconnection issues that may have existed since childhood, or have been reactivated in adulthood by dynamics similar to that original childhood abandonment/disconnection trauma.

The Energetics Institute also sees Anxiety from a positive psychology and a spiritual perspective. Our observation from seeing clients is that for many,  Anxiety is a result of disowning one’s warrior or backbone energy, and that the fears must be faced, and like a dragon, slain. It is only when we reach “rock bottom” or face what we call in spirituality a “Dark Night of the Soul”, that most of us are prepared to stop running, or remain frozen, and truly face our fears. The great myths of all societies express this as ” The search for the Holy Grail”, where the person must go in search of a treasure or “holy grail”, but must first undergo trials, tests, dragons, demons, and tormentors. What is ultimately found is that the “treasure” is not “out there” but inside, and is often a flame, an energy, that turns the person into a warrior of action, rather than a victim of inaction. The true “illness” is of our spirit and how we have become distorted and forgotten our true nature by disowning our life affirming anger and other strengths. Anxiety is the resulting abandonment of our own strength of  body, mind and spirit.  Joseph Campbell, the great authority of myths and their relevance to our human condition, states in his book MYTHS TO LIVE BY, that unless we face ourselves and see fear as a calling for what have we disowned in ourself and left us split, we will be lost and defeated.

The Energetics Institute promotes the examination of the Self from a spiritual, reflective place as part and parcel of how we define ourselves as humans. We do not promote or prescribe any one religious dogma, tradition or thought. We simply see that a spiritual dimension in a person’s life provides meaning and a framework to one’s existence, and allows one to deepen oneself within and with the outside world. Anxiety is a stuckness, contraction, a shutting down, a giving up, from a place of hopelessness in this view. Anxious people are fearful people, fearing both fear itself, and life itself. The distortion of having become a victim, allows fear to torture the sufferer and leaves them in a victim state. Once addressed from a body-mind perspective, this state lifts and the positivity and fearlessness and reaching toward life starts to emerge again, as renewal takes roots in the person.

If upon reading this information you think you may have some form of Anxiety then You should consult with a mental health professional like a counsellor, psychologist, or psychotherapist for further advice .

Website References

  1. THE BLACK DOG INSTITUTE: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
  2. NATIONAL INSTUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH (NIMH): www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
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