Most of us will probably be able to identify a time in our life when we felt stressed and/ or anxious. Like all emotions, stress and anxiety can be described as being on a continuum – so we can experience high and low levels of stress and anxiety depending upon the context; and these emotions can sometimes be very helpful or feel really unhelpful.
In the short-term stress and anxiety can be facilitative, and we can often forget the helpful and adaptive element of these emotions. For example, think about how a deadline at school or work can sometimes help make us work a bit harder and focus our energies because of the ‘stress’ they may induce in us. Having a slightly raised level of stress and anxiety can help our performance and help us find new resources and solutions.
When we experience stress and/ or anxiety long- term and or at heightened levels our worlds can start to feel as if they shrink – no-where feels safe and the world outside seems to be full of threat and danger. These emotions come in many different forms, from feeling an overwhelming sense of being judged by others (even complete strangers), to fears of being physically incapacitated in some way, (maybe being sick, fainting or needing the toilet with urgency,) thus leaving us feeling vulnerable.
In these scenarios we believe that the threat the world represents is greater than the resources we may have to meet and contain that threat. As a consequence we can experience awful heart palpitations, dizziness, wobbly legs, upset stomachs and even fizzy feelings in our arms and hands. All these physical symptoms can further confirm for us how unsafe we are.
Understandably many people who may experience these symptoms, in the context of stress and anxiety, may then decide to ‘retreat’ from the world to try and keep themselves ‘safe’. They may stay at home more, call in sick to work, and or cancel outings with family and friends.
This is a very common way of trying to manage disabling levels of stress and anxiety unwittingly reinforcing the sense of threat and it keeps a vicious cycle being maintained between thoughts of ‘threat,’ feelings of stress and anxiety, distressing physiological/ physical reactions and our ‘safety’ behaviours of retreating.
If you or someone you love may be experiencing something similar to what has been described, the good news is that psychological therapy can be really successful in helping manage these symptoms differently. Click here to find out more about therapy at our Brighton & Hove Clinic and how we can help.