Common Bodily Reactions to Anxiety
Breathing rate and depth increases to make more oxygen available to the muscles for fight or flight – yawning, breathlessness, smothering feeling, tightness in the chest. This may reduce blood supply to the head (not dangerous) – dizziness, light-headedness, blurred vision, confusion, hot flushes, feelings of unreality.
Heart rate and blood pressure increase enabling blood and oxygen to be pumped around the body quicker – heart ‘pounding’.
Sweating increases cooling the body preventing it from overheating when strenuous physical activity begins.
Muscle tension increases preparing you to respond quickly – aches, pains, trembling, shaking, exhausted feeling.
Digestive system activity slows allowing more energy to be diverted to flight or fight systems – dry mouth, nausea, heavy stomach.
Blood redistribution to muscles – tingling in fingers or toes, numbness.
Immune system slows down – allowing the body to put all its efforts into escaping – harmful over long periods.
These responses are important when facing real danger. However when you are not in danger, it causes stress to your body. That is why it is so important to learn how to manage them.
Thinking Responses or Cognitions
Some types of thinking:
- Cause worry or anxiety
- Perpetuate the fight/flight response
One type of thinking is to over-estimate the chance that negative things will happen.
- One example of this type of thinking is “I will make a mistake when I’m making a speech.” How do you know that you are definitely going to make a mistake? This way of thinking only heightens the fight/flight response.
Another type of thinking is over-estimating the cost of negative events.
- One example of this thinking style in a work context is “If I do this speech badly, all my colleagues will think I am stupid, I will lose my job and never be respected again.” This is a catastrophic way of thinking and serves to promote anxiety.
Action Responses or Behaviours
The following behaviours may also perpetuate and serve to keep your anxiety at a high level as they affect your thoughts, feelings and fight or flight system:
- Avoiding anxiety-provoking situations
- Not doing things you would like to do, or achieving certain goals
- Over-planning (to prevent your highly feared predicted event from occurring e.g. researching to every last detail the background for a speech you will give for fear you will otherwise look incompetent)
- Rumination/unproductive worry (constantly chewing on thoughts without a result or purpose that only promotes anxious feelings and thoughts)
- Hyper-vigilance – paying greater attention to your surroundings or your body, as you search for and have your eyes peeled for a potential threat
- Not challenging or working on your thoughts/beliefs
- Not practicing relaxation skills
- Staying in unhelpful situations that promote anxiety (e.g. continuous coffee or stimulant consumption)
- Not seeking treatment
- Using safety behaviours (behvaiours you believe will stop the feared event from happening) such as over-preparation
- Not staying in your feared situation long enough