Anxiety is a word you might have heard countless times during the last two years. Firstly in relation to the global coronavirus pandemic of COVID-19. And more recently in relation to the situation that the world is finding itself to be in. As soon as restrictions, which were introduced in many countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ended, our attention was brought to an armed conflict in the center of Europe. We now face another challenge, but together we have the strength to overcome it.
We have been through a lot in the past two years with many of us sticking to the rules and not being able to see our families and loved ones. The whole world struggled but it seemed like we were out of the worst. As our anxiety levels started to drop, we became excited about the future. Maybe, we started making travel plans, we were full of hope and the promise of tomorrow.
Yet, last week marked, maybe, the beginning of a new era. We woke up to a situation, which seems to be dangerously close to a much larger conflict. There are for sure people who feel not too touched by it, but there are many of us, who might feel very anxious. And I would like to ensure you that that is totally ok.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response your body might have to stressful or threatening situations. It is a way for your organism to prepare itself for what might come. During these responses, your body produces adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones then act as switches and are behind the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. hyperventilating, increased heart rate, headache, sweating). This might furthermore lead to other symptoms, including having a sense of impending danger, sweating, feeling stressed, and restlessness.
If you have or feel any of those symptoms, first of all, accept them and do not feel bad about having them. Remember, it is absolutely natural and common to have a response like this. We are all humans and in stressful situations our hormones might take over. You might have heard, that this whole process is also called “fight or flight”.
"Fight or flight" response
The whole process starts in your amygdala (edit: part of the brain), which contributes to emotional processing. Then, a message is sent to the hypothalamus, another part of your brain, which is technically the command center of your body.
Once this happens, the hypothalamus sends signals to the adrenal glands and they start pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream. Our bodies function like this because it enables us to first recognize danger, acknowledge it, and be able to quickly decide whether we fight or flight. For instance, when we start hyperventilating, our lungs receive more oxygen and that can help keep our brain more alert. Again, this is a natural response to danger that our bodies have developed during evolution.
Those processes happen so fast that we are able to act before we realize what is going on. If we feel we are in prolonged danger, our bodies then start producing even more hormones (for instance, CRH or ACTH), which help in keeping us alert.
If you think about it, anxiety is in a way a mechanism of survival. Hence, getting it under control might take some time, however, it is totally in your power to do so. It is also important that you address is, because otherwise, you could develop chronic stress or anxiety that would be more difficult to manage. Thankfully, there are many tools that can help you reduce your anxiety. We will look into some techniques later this week.