Do you know someone who is a Type A personality? What about a Type B personality? Do you know anyone who is a little of both? I do! Me! Most people say that I am rather laid back and calm, while my family says “you are a ball of anxiety!” For most of us, we are a little of both at certain periods in our lives and even ages. A dear friend of mine use to be so calm, even in a fire he could be calm! Now, at 33, he is a ball of nerves. I’m sure you can relate. Anxiety has a way of blowing up everything we experience on a daily basis. Even for parents, families, and caregivers or someone dealing with a mental health concern, anxiety can exaggerate an already negative situation.
I consider anxiety to be insidious because it hides itself so well that we miss symptoms in ourselves and those around us also miss them. Anxiety can be fleeting and chronic, long-term and short-term. Some anxiety is good for us because it motivates us to action. But for the most part, anxiety is detrimental because it speeds up the body when we don’t need it to.
We have what is known as the central nervous system (CNS). Our CNS has many parts to it, but to make things simple, lets just say that the CNS speeds and slows our body down. There are two systems within our body that we can blame for this confusion.
Sympathetic and Para-Sympathetic Systems
We have what is known as a sympathetic nervous system (similar to a gas pedal in a car). When things get us anxious, this system kicks in. Most people refer to this as the “fight or flight” mechanism that prepares us to endure anxiety or run from it. When you are taking a test or interviewing for a job, the CNS speeds us up. On the other hand, we have what is known as the para-sympathetic nervous system (similar to a break pedal in a car). This system slows things down. When you are trying to sleep at night or engage in meditation, the para-sympathetic nervous system kicks in. These systems automatically kick in to help us regulate our world. The body is constantly in search of equilibrium because it cannot function properly without it. In order to achieve balance or equilibrium, the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems take turns to regulate us. But when the body no longer engages in this process and the sympathetic nervous system remains in control, the body is now out of tune. The dance of the two systems has ended.
“Anxiety should be short-term, not long-term”
When the CNS speeds up in times when we don’t need it to, this is the moment when you need to seek help. The body is now out of tune with reality and isn’t responding correctly to the environment. Anxiety should be short-term, not long-term. Have you experienced the following symptoms for more than a few hours a day?
- Shakiness: You feel nervous, shaky, and out of control
- Nausea: You have unexplained nausea that occurs out of the blue
- Dizziness: The world spins at moments when you feel stressed
- Sweating: When your CNS speeds up, you start sweating
- Racing thoughts: When your anxiety level is too high, it can be difficult to think or process information
If you have experienced the above for more than a few hours a day, even at mild levels, I recommend using coping skills in your daily life. You may also find therapy useful.
Ways to cope
When I am anxious and unable to concentrate, I engage in the following and I encourage you to do the same:
- Remind yourself that you can remain in control. Take a few minutes to center yourself (get away, go for a walk, take deep breaths, drink a warm cup of tea, exercise, etc)
- Each morning I give myself a lot of time to meditate, take a warm bath, and get ready for the day (I hate rushing!). Know how to cater to yourself on a daily basis.
- Try to exercise 4-5 times per week. I’ve learned that exercise revs up my system and allows me to calm down. I’m working off steam and also allowing my body to naturally return to a state of calm. Feels great!
- Self-reflection is also important. I allow myself time to journal throughout the week and reflect upon my behavior, feelings, encounters, and thoughts. This gives me a foundation and allows me to learn more about myself.
For 15 tips on how to cope with stress, visit my site: AnchoredInKnowledge. What are some things that you have learned to do to control anxiety and extreme levels of stress?
As always, take good care of yourself!
Photo credit: Gavin Wood
Last reviewed: 30 Oct 2013
Hill, T. (2013). The Basics Of How Anxiety Affects The Body. Psych Central.
Retrieved on August 30, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2013/10/the-basics-of-how-anxiety-affects-the-body/