Worry, why do I let myself worry?

So asked Patsy Kline in 1961. Patsy’s plight was that of love and heartbreak but we all worry over life’s anomalies whether it be job security, relationships, children, targets, deadlines or countless other daily trials and tribulations. Most of us overcome these worries and either solve the problem or simply let it go. Others of us, however, are unable to either confront or walk away.

Worrying is a waste of time it does not change anything; it just messes with your mind and steals your happiness. So, there it is – it messes with your mind. What if your mind is already messed with? What if the cortex and the amygdala are already at work? The what? I hear you say, I shall explain.

The cortex is an area of our brain where thoughts initiate anxiety. The cortex which, long ago for our ancestors, enabled them to remember moments of pain or pleasure. Thus, they were able to avoid certain situations and enjoy others. The cortex allowed them to avoid dangerous situations by remembering what had happened previously. It also enabled them not to duplicate costly mistakes. As Matt Lewis in his book Overcome Anxiety describes the two possible mistakes our ancestors could make; was that a bush behind the rock or was it a lion? Thinking it was a lion when it was a bush caused needless anxiety. Thinking it was a bush and it was indeed a lion, could result in death. Therefore, we evolved to think the former and make this mistake many times thus avoiding the second mistake. This part of the brain anticipated trouble, and this is the mind we have inherited from our ancestors.

Another area of the brain is the amygdala. This is an emergency response system. It recognises information it receives about what is happening around us. The amygdala can also induce anxiety as we react to our environment. Both the cortex and amygdala receive sensory information from the thalamus; however, the amygdala receives it quicker allowing the flight, fight or freeze reaction way before the cortex has processed the information. The amygdala maintains information as emotions. We may not be aware of these emotions, but should we come across a trigger such as a scent, or a particular object we may become anxious. We had perhaps forgotten that specific event, but the thalamus sends the trigger to the amygdala which goes into protection mode and we react accordingly. Sometimes we do not understand why we are feeling anxious as we have no recall of the event. The amygdala does remember; this is our in-built security guard.

Anxiety then can affect any one of us, at any time and in any way. It is part of the body’s protection system. It is a worry of future events and a fear of current events. The following information is taken from the Anxiety UK website.

Symptoms of anxiety

People often experience physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms when they feel anxious or stressed. Some of the most common physical symptoms are:

  • Increased heart rate or increased muscle tension
  • ‘Jelly legs’ or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Hyperventilation (breathing too heavily) or dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing or a tight band across the chest
  • Wanting to use the toilet more often
  • Feeling sick
  • Tension headaches
  • Hot flushes or increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking or palpitations
  • Choking sensations

Some of the most common psychological symptoms include feeling that:

  • You might lose control and/or go ‘mad’; or you might die
  • You might have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
  • People are looking at you and noticing your anxiety
  • Things are speeding up/slowing down
  • You’re detached from your environment and the people in it
  • You want to run away/escape from the situation
  • You’re on edge and alert to everything around you

The most common behavioural symptom involves avoiding a situation that makes you feel anxious. Although this can produce immediate relief, it is only a short-term solution. The anxiety often returns the next time you are in that situation – and avoiding it will only reinforce the feeling of danger; it means that you will never find out whether your fear about the situation and what might happen is actually true.

If you think you may be suffering from anxiety and your symptoms have been present for more than six months, an appointment with your GP may be advisable. Your GP can refer you to therapists, counsellors or may even prescribe some short-term medication. For self-help you could join a local support group, speak with family or friends, take regular exercise, yoga and mindfulness can also alleviate symptoms. Most importantly, do not suffer in silence. There is always someone to talk to. Visit anxiety.co.uk for some good advice and support. Mind also provide information and support to those experiencing anxiety.

As a footnote, stress is not anxiety. Stress may result in anxiety if prolonged. Stress is caused by external pressures in our life. It can come and go according to the causal changes. It can sometimes be good for us in that we respond and get things done. However, the more stress we experience, and its accumulation can have detrimental effects. Our capacity to contain, manage or tolerate stress is important here. Think of a bucket of stress. More and more stress is added such as described by mind.org.uk;

  • being under lots of pressure.
  • facing big changes.
  • worrying about something.
  • not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation.
  • having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming.
  • not having enough work, activities or change in your life.
  • times of uncertainty.

The bucket is becoming full and if something doesn’t give soon it will overflow. We, therefore, need a leaky bucket. Some outlets such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness, friendship to relieve the pressure of our stress bucket. There are unhelpful “go-to” strategies to help with this relief such as alcohol, drugs or caffeine. Initially, they do give short term relief. However, they do not remove the causes, they just mask our response to them and may be more harmful. Again, there are professionals who can help as well as friends and family.

So please don’t suffer in silence. Make an appointment with your GP or talk to a trusted friend.

Visit Anxiety.org.uk or Mind.org.uk for valuable help and support.

For further information on Mental Health Awareness why not take our half-day course? You will explore the symptoms of some mental health issues and how you can either help yourself or support others who may be struggling. We also offer the L2 Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace and L3 Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace.

In every life we have some trouble but when you worry you make it double. Here I give you my phone number when you worry call me, I make you happy, don’t worry.
Bobby McFerrin 1988