HGI Logo Physical, emotional and behavioural changes during anxiety

What is happening to me? - Physical Changes during anxiety

To help you understand what is happening to your body when you get anxious let's take an example of a situation in which almost everyone would experience the symptoms of anxiety. Imagine you are crossing a busy road, when suddenly you hear a very loud car horn go off a few feet away from you and a screech of brakes. What you will most likely do is immediately jump aside, even before you've had the time to think what is happening. Having got out of the way of the car, you'll then be left feeling a bit shaky, with your heart thumping as well as some other symptoms. Now what has happened is that a split second after you heard the horn and screech of brakes, what is called the 'anxiety response' has been switched on. What the anxiety response does is make your body take immediate action in the face of danger.

This is designed to keep you safe and works much faster than your rational thinking brain, you do not stop to wonder what colour the car is, you jump! This is also called the fight or flight response and when it fires

your heart rate shoots up: it does this as it can pump blood to the muscles of your arms and legs much more quickly, because it will be your arms and legs which will get you out of danger;

to keep your heart beating at this faster rate, you need extra oxygen to give the heart energy so you breathe much more quickly as well to get this extra energy for the heart;

and because of the extra energy (additional blood flow) being sent to your arms and legs, the muscles tense, and are ready to spring into action;

this reduces the amount of blood available for the stomach, which causes stomach churning or butterflies, and the brain itself causing light-headedness or faintness;

as your heart is pumping blood more quickly around your body, especially to the muscles, your temperature increases to cool your body down, you perspire more. Hence you may feel clammy and sweaty;

the brain also slows down all unnecessary processes such as saliva production hence a dry mouth can occur. It also increases the production of adrenalin to ready you for action and this can result in jittery and shaky feelings in the arms and/or legs.

All this is carried out by the anxiety response. As you can see from the example, the anxiety response is automatic, you do not 'consciously' switch it on. This is because it needs to work immediately you are aware of the danger.

When the anxiety response it retrained using the Human Givens approach, the physical symptoms simply go away.

What is happening to me? Emotional and behavioural changes during anxiety

Basically, the anxiety-response operates like our personal security guard. It highlights potentially painful (physical or emotional) events in the outside world and will trigger appropriate behaviour in order to keep us safe (fight-or-flight). In a case of screeching brakes, danger is obviously real for all to hear and we jump aside.

However, in addition to keeping us safe from immediate painful experiences, the security guard also learns by accumulating experience from prior painful incidents in our lives and when a match to current events is perceived, our anxiety-response may also be fired to warn us of potential pain which can cause all kinds of behaviour.

When our security guard recognises a similar pattern to a past painful event, we not only think and behave strangely, we may think people are looking at, or talking about us, or we feel nervous and uncomfortable in the company of other people. Sometimes we worry that we may lose control or make a fool of ourselves in front of others and we tell ourselves that we must escape and get to a safe place, we make excuses why we can not attend that party, or go out for a drink. Sometimes we may tell ourselves that we are physically ill (our Security guard creates physical sensations to help with this). We may think we are having a heart attack or a stroke as anxiety attacks are regularly confused with heart-attacks.

Often, we may feel frightened, but because the fear relates to a similar previous painful event and not to the current event directly, we may not be sure from what. Medically speaking, these behaviours would be labelled as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia etc.

In reality, these behaviours are generated by our security guard and are perfectly normal. They act as warnings that something like this has happened before and it was painful and we should be aware! Stay alert (anxiety response)! The anxiety response is primeval in nature and does not always acknowledge the rest of the human brainís ability. For example, we learn that when something is painful we should not repeat the act a second time which is normal human behaviour. How many times do we close a finger in a door, or trip on the stairs? So although the intention of the Security guard is well meant, it is often an over-reaction to a situation which could quite easily be managed by our rational thinking brain.

Human Givens therapy helps you to initially switch the anxiety response off, then retrain it so that it acts in a more appropriate way..

Hugh Macnab - Human Givens Practitioner (Tel: 01606 79400)
Send Hugh an e-mail at hugh.macnab@googlemail.com