Anxiety is a emotion. Like any other emotion, it is a is a signal from ourselves to move into action (e-motion). It is a signal we give ourselves when we believe that something bad may happen. It is a way of preparing to prevent negative outcomes. However, it also feels very unpleasant.
Our brains are designed for survival. Like cats, dogs, alpacas, and sugar gliders, the part of our brain that is designed to keep us safe is “primitive” and predates the fancy frontal lobes that excel when we discuss Shakespeare at a tea party. It operates on a case of better safe than sorry, – a bit of a blunt instrument. If it looks like it could eat you, it’s best to assume that it will eat you.
Humans are designed for relating. We depend on other people for “regulation”, we need other people to feel safe , to calm down, to feel grounded. Although we may be less at risk of being eaten, we often feel at risk of being excluded, ejected from the group. Today’s anxiety is a lot more about being alone and unwanted.
This means that we get to worry an awful lot about our relationships or, often, to do everything we can (such as overwork, drink, and take drugs, loose ourselves in all sorts of activities) to convince ourselves that we are not really worried about our relationships.
The ways in which we experience anxiety vary between people, but can also be quite recognisable.
Psychiatrists have tried to classify how anxiety manifests and can sometimes make it seem as if anxiety is an illness that takes distinct forms. This way of looking at things can be useful. “Hey, you have this form of anxiety as well? What a relief, I thought was an aberration!”
It is a profound relief to discover that our experiences are shared. At the same time we also have, I believe, an innate need to be seen, to be recognised by the other, to have our individuality affirmed, to have our individual “case” understood.
Let’s start by giving you a little shelter, a way of feeling you are in a space which others occupy, you are unique and yet experience life in a way that is recognisable by others and shared by others.
Panic disorder with or without agoraphobia
Sometimes, often out of the blue, you feel fear that escalates into terror. Within seconds or minutes your heart is racing, your are sweating, perhaps even shaking, you tummy feels sick, you may feel lightheaded. This way of feeling is terrifying. You worry that you may get a heart attack, suffocate, or go mad. Other people struggle to grasp this and may even come across as dismissive, as if you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is also scary; because you feel on our own.
You have started to avoid situations where you think you may feel like this, or even leaving home (agoraphobia). Life becomes increasing restricted and you need to control more and more of what you of in the hope you will not experience this horror of a state again.
Other people are superior. They know things. They have access to the rule book. They find relating easy. How is this possible? This is a minefield! You can be too much. Or not enough. You can offend if you come forward. Or be boring, weird, uninteresting if you hold back. What about your sweaty armpits? Or you blushing face? Or the way you sit, or stand, or hold your hands? I am not funny enough, not interesting enough. I always am at the boundary of shame, embarrassment, awkwardness. And yet, one the whole, I crave relationships. I want to be with you, I want to be like you. I hate to stand out! Stop watching me! But, I can’t stop seeing myself from the outside. Scrutinising every little detail.