Anxiety: What’s Behind it

After experiencing anxiety in second year, I spent much time hoping it would go away for good. When it would dissipate, I’d feel so happy… only to be disappointed when it would rush back anew.  I refer here not to situational stress we all experience from time to time, but about a persisting, intrusive and bothersome condition.

After a while, I realized that anxiety was going to be there for the long haul.  Trying to get rid of anxiety merely gets in the way of coping with it effectively; the condition is better managed than avoided.  Following this epiphany, I came across MD Claire Weekes hugely helpful audiobook, Pass Through Panic.  The author’s explanation of the three processes that drive anxiety mirror was absolutely eye-opening:

  1. Sensitization.  It can occur in anyone and be caused by a traumatic event or prolonged exposure to stress.  Sensitization is a continued state that’s characterized by nerves having a tendency to overreact to stressors.  Activity in the amygdala leads to physical reactions such as stomach churning, sweating, lump in the throat, etc.  This state of sensitization is maintained over time by bewilderment and fear.
  2. Bewilderment.  The physical reactions listed above are unpleasant and lead the person who experiences them to worry about his state and to ask “Why do I feel like that? What’s happening to me? Why can’t I feel just like everyone else?”  This process adds stress to the original stress experienced.
  3. Fear.   Bewilderment then evolves in to fear about one’s condition.  The person is no longer concerned by the initial stressor, but by the unpleasant sensations experienced.  When anxiety is present, the person fears his or her state.  When anxiety is gone, the person fears its return.  This keeps stress levels high and maintains sensitization.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Weekes’ strategies to break this nasty cycle and how they’ve helped over here.  If you are looking for support, tons of other books exist on the topic and Counseling Services offers an anxiety management group program.

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